A fire at a Greek Ordothox church in unincorporated El Cajon is being investigated as a hate crime, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department officials confirmed.
"Oh my God. This is worse than I thought," parishioner Charles Maniatis said Sunday as he surveyed the damage.
Hours earlier, around 4 a.m. fire broke out at the St. Gregory of Nyssa Greek Orthodox Church located on Mary Ann Way.
Neighbors in the area reported the blaze to authorities.
Firefighters from Cal Fire, San Miguel Fire District, Heartland Fire and Lakeside all worked together to tackle the blaze. Crews were able to extinguish the fire within 45 minutes, officials said.
There was no one inside the church at the time of the fire and no injuries were reported.
Investigators from the Sheriff's Bomb/Arson Unit and a fire investigator from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives were called to investigate the cause and origin of the fire.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, the fire caused about $250,000 in damages to the church.
Investigators have identified a person of interest in connection to the fire.
Darin Williams, 38, was immediately contacted by investigators and arrested for suspicion of arson, burglary and a hate crime.
Williams was booked into San Diego Central Jail and being held on $150,000 bail. He’s scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.
The church's priest, Father Simeon Corona, said he's known Williams for several years.
Corona said the suspect has been in and out of mental hospitals.
The church still held Sunday service. They prayed in the garage - the only place unscathed by fire.Before the next step, they say they'll look for guidance.
"First we start with the Lord, the man above. He's in charge," said Maniatis. "And we go there."