Video: Man throws gas on parishioners

updated 10/26/2006 11:02:39 AM ET 2006-10-26T15:02:39

A young man threatened a cab driver with a knife Wednesday night before bursting into a Salem church and setting fires that injured two older women, authorities said.

One of the women, identified by a senior pastor as Arlene Anderson, suffered burns on her back and head and was taken to Salem Hospital with injuries that were not considered life threatening. The other woman declined to go to the hospital.

The cab driver had a slight neck wound, said Deputy Kevin Rau, spokesman for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

The suspect entered the church at about 7:30 p.m., just as a pastor was inviting those inside to greet each other. The Rev. Sam Miller, the assistant to the pastor, said the man was speaking nonsense and carrying what appeared to be gasoline.

“He was spreading gas on people, furniture and carpet as he went,” Miller said, noting that the fires ignited as he spread the liquid.

Miller said there were about 300 people in the church and one of the men quickly tackled the suspect and hauled him out as others beat down the flames. Rau said one man was in custody. He was not immediately identified.

The fire caused some damage to the carpets and the pews. Miller said no one in the church had ever seen the man before: “We think it’s someone who was mentally deranged.”

Senior Pastor Scott Erickson told The Oregonian newspaper that the church has existed for 55 years. Erickson, who wasn’t at the church during the incident, said he and his wife had just returned to Salem from a missionary trip to Siberia.

“This is all very upsetting,” Erickson said. “This won’t deter us from having services. We’ll go on, and we can assure everyone that they are safe here.”

The investigation was continuing late into the night and witnesses were taken to another building to be interviewed by police.

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