Crime & Justice

LA County man convicted of burning Catholic church in Hacienda Heights

Gregory Yusuke Shiga
Gregory Yusuke Shiga

Los Angeles County prosecutors say a man has been convicted of setting fire to a catholic church and causing more than $3 million in damage.

A jury deliberated for less than an hour Tuesday before convicting 35-year-old Gregory Shiga of five separate counts including aggravated arson. He could get life in prison at his sentencing scheduled for July 19.

Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose says Shiga broke into the sanctuary at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Hacienda Heights shortly after midnight on April 16, 2011. Rose says he saturated rolls of toilet paper with flammable material and sprayed the walls with a similar substance then started the blaze.

More than a year later, Shiga was arrested after an investigation by the Sheriff's Department and the FBI.

KPCC readers reacted strongly to news of the fire when it was first reported in 2011.

“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,” one person commented.

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.”

Efforts to rebuild the church are still under way. In a June newsletter shared on the church's Facebook page, pastor Msgr. Tim Nichols noted that it will still be some time before ground is broken. A proposed site plan would place the new church adjacent to its former location.

A YouTube video shows the extent of the fire damage.