UPDATE: A 26-year-old local resident was charged Wednesday in the overnight arson fire that destroyed a Franklin Lakes church, Daily Voice has learned.
James Mayers remained hospitalized in police custody after members of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office Arson Investigations Unit charged him with first-degree aggravated arson that caused the destruction of a building and burglary.
Mayers, who is unemployed and lives with his parents, was quickly taken into custody by borough police after the fire broke out at the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Franklin Lake Road near High Mountain Road just after 1:30 a.m., responders said.
Mayers "entered the structure during the early morning hours [Wednesday] and purposely started the fire with the use of gasoline and a cigarette lighter," Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella said.
He "was arrested at the scene and treated by first responders for thermal injuries he sustained while starting the fire," Musella said.
Firefighters had the main body of the three-alarm blaze knocked down shortly before 4 a.m. and continued to hit hot spots as the sun rose and investigators searched through the rubble -- some of which responders said was spray-painted with graffiti.
The Bergen County Sheriff's Bureau of Criminal Identification collected evidence.
"Damage to the church is complete," township Police Capt. John Bakelaar said. "The fire was extensive."
Classes at the parish's K-8 Academy of the Most Blessed Sacrament were canceled on Wednesday. That building wasn't damaged, responders said.
The Archiocese of Newark issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying that it was "saddened" by the "devastating fire."
"We are thankful for the efforts of the police, firefighters, and public safety workers who immediately responded to calls and battled the blaze during frigid conditions to try and save Most Blessed Sacrament Church," said Maria Margiotta, the archdiocese's communications and public relations director said.
"We are moving forward to ensure parish life continues and we are currently identifying alternative sites for Masses, liturgies, and parish activities," she added. "We ask everyone to please pray for all who have been affected by this incident."
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