NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) – A man is behind bars after, police said, he vandalized and harassed members at a North Miami Beach monastery.
Thirty-three-year-old Jorge Ariza-Mendoza appeared in bond court Monday morning. He faces a list of charges including aggravated assault, burglary and criminal mischief at a place of worship.
Police said Sunday’s incident happened during the suspect’s third visit to the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, located on West Dixie Highway and 167th Street. “The prayers were interrupted by this man shouting, ‘Where is the priest?'” said Father Gregory Mansfield, a priest at the monastery, “and I stood up and said ‘I’m right here.'”
Investigators said he drove to the monastery on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
According to an arrest affidavit, on his first visit, Ariza-Mendoza purchased a day ticket and spent several hours inside the building. While exiting, he told someone they should not be having masses there, threw a rock at a sign and began to smash it with a large tool before he fled.
“He get a stick, and he goes ‘boom, boom,’ like twice,” said Carolina del Vecchio, who works at the monastery’s gift shop.
Mansfield corroborated the employee’s account. “He walked out the door, went into his car and got a thing, I’d describe it as a sledgehammer — it had a long handle and heavy metal at the end — and began smashing the sign out in front,” he said.
He was able to get away.
On Friday, police said, Ariza-Mendoza jumped the fence and pried his way into the monastery, smashing a video camera. He then walked over to an 800-year-old statue and beheaded it. The statue is said to be irreplaceable.
The suspect came back a third time on Sunday. Investigators said he entered the main chapel during services and began yelling incoherently and slamming the door to the chapel, demanding to speak with the priest.
Mansfield said they were in the middle of a prayer service for the victims of Orlando when Ariza-Mendoza barged in. “He made his way inside the gates and the rail, approached me at the altar and said, ‘I’m going to shoot the priest and kill everybody that stays in here. I want everybody out now.'”
Mansfield said Ariza-Mendoza continued disrupting the service in an extended outburst with about 140 congregants in attendance. “He continued to rant, took a Gospel book, slammed it on the altar, saying, ‘You can’t have mass. You can’t have services here,'” he said.
According to the arrest report, someone yelled that the subject might have a gun, to which he replied, “No, but I am going to get a .44 and come back and shoot you in the face.”
“He approached me at the altar and said, ‘I’m going to shoot the priest and kill everybody who stays. I want everybody out now,'” said Mansfield.
Investigators said Ariza-Mendoza did not have a gun but threatened to return with one. Police, however, were already on the premises waiting for him. “We set up here on Sunday,” said North Miami Beach Police Chief Bill Hernandez. “We had the command post out here and three detectives out here.”
He was arrested by officers who were working a special detail at the monastery. “Our officers were able to get in there, place him in custody, take him back to the station,” said Hernandez. “The individual confessed to it.”
During Monday’s bond hearing, North Miami Beach Police detectives called Ariza-Mendoza’s mental state into question and asked the judge to raise Ariza Mendoza’s bond. “The defendant stated that if he would have had it his way and the officers were not there working the detail, that he was gonna lock up the place, take everyone hostage, and kill everyone inside until his mission was completed,” said a detective.
The priest said that the church had helped Ariza-Mendoza through its homeless program.
Ariza-Mendoza is currently being held on a $92,500 bond.
The monastery was built from the original stones from a 12th century monastery in Segovia, Spain. It is currently a venue for weddings and other events, as well as a museum.
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