updated 1/7/2007 2:13:05 AM ET 2007-01-07T07:13:05

A man walked into a church, doused a nativity scene with a flammable liquid and set it ablaze in front of a practicing choir, police said.

Robert Mills, 40, of San Pablo, was arrested Friday night while hiding in a park minutes after police said he walked into St. Cornelius Parish and announced he was going to set the church on fire.

Mills told everyone to leave but blocked the doorway until he began showering the sanctuary with the liquid, giving choir members a chance to escape, said Richmond Police Lt. Enos Johnson.

The fire destroyed the nativity scene, a lectern and carpeting, and caused extensive smoke damage. No one was injured.

Prosecutors will likely charge Mills with arson and possibly false imprisonment because the building was occupied when the fire occurred, police said.

“If they establish it’s a hate crime, they could go in that direction,” Johnson said.

Mills remained in custody at a detention facility in Martinez on Saturday. It was not clear if he had an attorney.

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