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Search under way for arsonist in Hacienda Heights church fire

April 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The search is on for an arsonist who torched a Catholic church in Hacienda Heights as parishioners mark Palm Sunday.

Mass was held Sunday in a parish hall behind the destroyed St. John Vianney church in the 1300 block of Turnbull Canyon Road.

The church was struck by a massive fire early Saturday morning, culminating in approximately $9 million worth of damage. Upon investigation, authorities determined the blaze was set intentionally.

The fire completely collapsed the roof of the chapel and melted away most of the structure.

Fire crews said the church was fully engulfed when they arrived on scene, with flames shooting up as high as 50 feet in the air.

It took crews over two hours to knock down the blaze. However, firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading to the nearby rectory and also saved some precious relics from inside the church. No injuries were reported.

Parishioners say the destruction feels personal and is hard to take.

"My heart is just coming out of my body. It's just pounding out of my chest. It's unbelievable that somebody could do this," said parishioner Maria Salas.

Many in the community called the church their second home.

"We've been parishioners here for what, 10 years or so. It's been a regular part of our community," said Carlos Herrera, another parishioner.

Though the devastation is fresh, members are already thinking of ways to resurrect their place of worship.

"As sad as it is that the building is gone, and all the memories of people who have been married and have so much here is gone, we're the church and we're going to rebuild," said parishioner Leanne Herrera.

Authorities remained tight-lipped about the investigation, not revealing any information about how the fire was set or a possible motive.

The Arson and Explosives Detail of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is leading the investigation.

If you have any information regarding the fire, you're urged to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS or (800) 222-8477.

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