In the early hours of Friday, April 30, the Northwest Friends Community Church was ablaze, contrasting with the night sky, the third and hardest-hit church in a spree of arson attacks.

Since then, the Quaker church at  5950 North La Cañada Drive has experienced unexpected acts of charity. It has formed relationships with churches of different denominations through offers of donations and assistance.

"It brought a lot of people together of different faiths," said Friends church board president Bob Gaston. "I didn't anticipate that. It was a terrible tragedy, but had an unexpected positive outcome."

When the church lost its piano, along with its roof, books, chairs, organ and about everything else, an ad was placed in The Explorer seeking a new instrument. Within days, an inexpensive piano was offered by an individual in SaddleBrooke, and a free organ was given by the Continental Baptist Church located on North Silverbell Road.

The goodwill didn't stop there.

Dove of Peace Lutheran Church, 665 W. Roller Coaster Road, offered help and use of its building. Other churches of various denominations throughout the country offered service and donations.

The Rev. Stephen Springer of the Dove of Peace was shocked when he learned about the fires. "Especially because they're Quakers," he said. "They are known for being peace-loving people."

The Lutheran church didn't hesitate in helping out the Friends church. "We would've offered to help any of the other churches," said Springer, "but they are so close. And there are main-line denominations that have stronger resources. We have 10 Lutheran churches in Pima County; the Friends don't have that."

The Friends' heavily damaged building also provided a learning exercise for Northwest Fire District academy recruits. "They wanted to show them how fast flames travel," said Gaston, pointing towards the charred rafters lining the building roof.

Firefighter recruits practiced rescue drills, ventilation cuts, and other training exercises in the scorched building.

With an estimated cost of between $500,000 and $600,000 in damage, the Friends church congregation is displaced from its building for at least six months, currently renting a store-front location on Oracle Road.

"What the fire didn't destroy, smoke damage did," Gaston said. "There was so much smoke and bad chemicals in the air, my lungs hurt for days after."

Catalina Lutheran Church, the fourth church afflicted by the arson assaults, sustained damages near $70,000. It was able to continue worship services in the building the following week. That church, too, received donations and offers of assistance from other churches and individuals.

"I'm not surprised," said Catalina Lutheran Church Pastor Michael Morehouse. "That's what Christianity is about. I'm just thankful for the churches that helped and that no one was hurt."

Morehouse's reaction to the fire — "I hope they catch him and he repents."

Gabriel J. Villaescusa, 30, was caught by Tucson Police after the Coronado Baptist Church fire June 1, and is facing charges related to arson in connection with that fire.

According to Deputy Jason Ogan, public information officer for the Pima County Sheriff's Office, Villaescusa is being investigated for any connection to the other fires.

 

 

 

Churches hit by arson attacks

 

1. Flowing Wells Baptist Church, 4314 N. Romero Road, April 9

2. Alliance Bible Church, 1301 W. Wetmore Road, April 26

3. Northwest Community Friends Church, 5950 North La Cañada Drive, April 30

4. Catalina Lutheran Church, 15855 N. Twin Lakes Drive, May 10

5. Coronado Baptist Church, 2609 N. Park Avenue, June 1

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