The Latest | Southern California breaking news and trends
Crime & Justice

Deputies arrest alleged arsonist accused of starting devastating Hacienda Heights church fire

Gregory Yusuke Shiga
Gregory Yusuke Shiga

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department announced the arrest this week of a man suspected of setting fire to a Catholic church in Hacienda Heights last year, completely destroying the beloved structure.

Gregory Yusuke Shiga, a 34-year-old parolee, was arrested Monday on charges of causing the fire one year ago at St. John Vianney Catholic Church. The early morning blaze on April 16, 2011 burned for two and a half hours and gutted the church, causing $6.5 million in damages.

Authorities immediately announced they believed it was caused by arson, but a suspect had not been identified until now.

Shiga is accused of breaking into the church's sanctuary just after midnight and deliberately setting the blaze. He faces charges including arson, burglary and possession of flammable material and could get 10 years to life in prison if convicted, according to the Sheriff’s Department. He is being held on $1 million bail pending arraignment on May 30.

It was not immediately clear what Shiga had been on parole for. Authorities said they arrested him in his Los Angeles home.

When KPCC first ran the story of the fire last year, readers said they were devastated by the loss. One person commented, “My sister and her family have lived in Hacienda Heights for many years now. Her children made their First Holy Communion there. We love the church and always make it a point to attend the yearly carnival. I feel such pain in my heart.”

Another said, “What a sad day it is in Hacienda Heights. The best church ever built is not just a sad burned-out building, but the holiest place to ever pray. I made my First Communion and Confirmation at this church back in the 1970s. So did my whole family. I hope everyone will help rebuild this Church back to normal.”

An effort to rebuild St. John Vianney has been underway by the parish.

Here are some images from the fire and its aftermath: