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College teacher accused of planning to burn cathedral dies by suicide after coronavirus jail release

The attorney for Marc Lamparello said he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, on medication and receiving therapy while in jail.
Image: Marc Lamparello
Marc Lamparello is escorted out of a police precinct in New York on April 18, 2019.Seth Wenig / AP file

A New Jersey college instructor accused of planning to burn St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City died by suicide exactly a year after police said he tried to enter the landmark church with two gas cans, lighter and lighter fluid.

An attorney for Marc Lamparello, of Hasbrouck Heights, said his client died on April 17 after being released from jail in New York City a few weeks earlier due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

The lawyer, Chris DiLorenzo, told NBC News that his client, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and on medication, was receiving therapy while in jail and was supposed to continue the treatment at a hospital in New Jersey.

Lamparello was arrested in April 2019 and charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment and trespassing.

Police said he tried to enter St. Patrick's with a pair of full two-gallon cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and lighters. John Miller, with the New York City Police Department, said Lamparello was turned away by a security officer at the church, who notified two police officers outside.

Miller said Lamparello told the officers that he was cutting through St. Patrick's to get to his car and that it had run out of gas. "We took a look at the vehicle," he said at a news conference at the time. "It was not out of gas, and at that point, he was taken into custody."

The arrest came just days after the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned in what officials said was an accident.

Prosecutors said Lamparello, who had taught philosophy as an adjunct professor at Lehman College in New York City and at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, spent a considerable amount of time surveilling St. Patrick’s, The Associated Press reported.

Lamparello, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, was deemed mentally unfit for trial in July and a Manhattan Supreme Court judge said he was going to commit him to a mental health facility for treatment.

He was being held at Rikers Island and after his release on March 20 due to coronavirus fears, Lamparello was supposed to receive treatment at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus, New Jersey, DiLorenzo said.

The lawyer said the hospital "dropped the ball" and rejected Lamparello from receiving therapy. Earlier this month, Lamparello attempted suicide but was stopped by police, his attorney said.

He was then admitted to Bergen New Bridge under suicide watch and released on Tuesday, a few days before he died, the attorney said.

"As soon as he got released, he no longer had a controlled environment where he was talking to somebody on a regular basis, which is what he needed to do," DiLorenzo said.

Lamparello's mother, Dolores, said she feels the hospital is "partly responsible for my son coming home and going one month without treatment."

She told NBC News that she and his caseworker tried several times to get him into the hospital's treatment program, but he was repeatedly rejected. His sister, Lee Nelms, said the family is considering legal action.

"The care was abominable. They paid no attention to him," she said. "Something good has to come out of my brother's death, and if we can save the next person from something like this or get this issue out there ... his death would not have been for nothing."

A spokesperson for the hospital said they could not comment on the care Lamparello received, but said "his interactions with our facility and the treatment we provided followed our protocols."

“The stress of something as significant as this pandemic will undoubtedly have far-reaching mental health impacts. We send our condolences and sympathy to Mr. Lamparello’s loved ones," said a statement from the hospital.

Days before Lamparello was arrested for the St. Patrick's incident, he was taken into custody at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey, for refusing to leave at closing time.

Miller said Lamparello resisted arrest at the time and got into a physical altercation with two deputy sheriffs. He was taken to a police station, issued summonses and later picked up by his mother.