NEW YORK (AP) — A college philosophy teacher from New Jersey arrested after entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral carrying two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters had also been arrested at a New Jersey cathedral this week and had booked a Thursday flight to Rome, the New York Police Department said.
Marc Lamparello, 37, of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., is facing charges including attempted arson and reckless endangerment after his arrest Wednesday night at the New York City landmark, said John Miller, the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.
It happened just days after Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was ravaged by a fire that investigators said Thursday was most likely electrical. Miller would not discuss anything Lamparello told investigators after his arrest but stressed that there "doesn't appear to be any connection to any terrorist group or any terrorist-related intent here."
Before going to St. Patrick's on Wednesday, Miller said, Lamparello booked a $2,800 ticket on a 5:20 p.m. Thursday flight to Italy. Asked if Lamparello indicated what he planned to do in Rome, Miller said, "I'm not going to get into that right now."
Lamparello remained in police custody Thursday and had not been arraigned. He was transported to Bellevue Hospital for a psychiatric exam, the New York Daily News reported, citing sources.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Lamparello had a lawyer who could speak for him.
Lamparello’s father, Leonard Lamparello, described his son as a “brilliant” college professor who sounded fine in a phone call just hours before his arrest.
“Extremely out of character,” he said about his son’s behavior. “He’s a brilliant professor. His writings — other professors can’t even understand his writings.
“Something happened, we don’t know.”
Lamparello “wasn’t weird,” said a neighbor, Salvatore Altomare, adding that he “seemed like … a nice guy, walked a straight line.”
Altomare described the family as "very good people. … They're real Americans — try to do the right thing."
Two nights before his arrest in New York — and hours after footage of Notre Dame burning was shown around the world — police in Newark arrested Lamparello after he wouldn't leave the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart at closing time after a late Mass. Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said Thursday that Lamparello was calm and respectful to the officers but was adamant about not leaving.
"He said, 'This is a house of God, it should be open, I'm not leaving. You'll have to lock me up,'" Fontoura said.
After he was charged with three minor offenses including defiant trespass, emergency medical services personnel examined Lamparello and determined he wasn't a threat. Lamparello's mother arrived and the two drove back to Hasbrouck Heights in his van, according to Fontoura.
"There was no reason to check the van at that point," he said.
Lamparello is a philosophy instructor who has taught at New York City’s Lehman and Brooklyn Colleges and Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Lehman’s website listed him as a Ph.D. candidate at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.
In a statement, Lehman College spokesperson Sarah Ramsey said, "We are aware that an individual was arrested last night after an incident at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The individual was hired at Lehman College during this academic year, and was a part-time, online instructor this semester. We are taking the appropriate steps to terminate the individual's employment with the college."
A page on Amazon.com describes Lamparello’s 2016 book, Reason and Counterpoint, as offering “ambitious and highly creative answers to some of the most vexing philosophical questions.” The same page says Lamparello has been working on another book project described as “a witty dialogue on arguments for and against the existence of God.”
Miller said surveillance camera footage showed Lamparello circling St. Patrick's several times in a minivan well over an hour before he parked outside the cathedral on Fifth Avenue, walked around the area, returned to his vehicle, and retrieved the gasoline and lighter fluid.
When he entered the church, he was confronted by a security officer, who notified counterterrorism officers standing outside. Lamparello told the officers his car was out of gas and headed in a direction away from where he was parked, Miller said.
Officers found his vehicle and determined it was not out of gas, Miller said.