A 37-year-old man who wasafter 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 flight to Rome, the New York Police Department said.
Marc Lamparello, a college instructor, has been charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment and trespassing, according to police.
"There doesn't appear to be any connection to any terrorist group or any terrorist-related intent here," said John Miller, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.
Lamparello is a philosophy instructor who has taught philosophy instructor,at New York City's Lehman and Brooklyn colleges and Seton Hall University in New Jersey. His arrest came during Holy Week for Catholics around the world and just days after flames ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Lehman's website listed him as a Ph.D. candidate at the City University of New York's Graduate Center.
"The individual was hired at Lehman College during this academic year, and was a part-time, online instructor this semester," Lehman College spokesperson Sarah Ramsey said in a statement. "We are taking the appropriate steps to terminate the individual's employment with the college."
A neighbor, Salvatore Altomare, said Lamparello "wasn't weird," 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."
Miller said surveillance camera footage showed Lamparello circling St. Patrick's several times in a minivan Wednesday 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.
Before going to St. Patrick's on Wednesday, Lamparello booked a $2,800 ticket on a 5:20 p.m. Thursday flight to Italy, according to Miller.
On Monday, he had been arrested at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey, after he refused to leave at closing time, Miller said.
Maria Margiotta, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark, declined to comment on the specifics of Monday's arrest, citing the ongoing police investigation. Our "security is vigilant and ensures a safe environment for all those who visit," she said.