Arson and hate crimes: Man arrested for one church fire, four still pending

Someone has a God problem – or at least an issue or two with churches, based on a string of arsons that have been blazing around town for the past two months.

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Arson is one of the most cowardly crimes. It’s tough to be rough and tough when a guy’s claim to fame is setting something aflame and then running away.

We say “guy” because Fire Focus tells us that 80 percent of arsonists are men. These dudes often come from impoverished and dysfunctional families and have a history of behavioral problems.

No fewer than five churches have set aflame since April. The most recent was June 1 at the Coronado Baptist Church around 10:30 a.m. – in broad daylight. The church sits at 2609 N. Park Ave, between Glenn and Grant roads, in the middle of town.

Gabriel J. Villaescusa, 30, was arrested for the June 1 fire, according to an announcement from the Tucson Police Department. The alleged firebug faces charges of arson of an occupied structure, criminal damage, and six counts of endangerment. All are felonies.

The other four arsons were:

* Flowing Wells Baptist Church 4314 N. Romero Rd. at 11:57 p.m. April 9
* Alliance Bible Church, 1301 W. Wetmore Rd. at 11:26 p.m. April 26
* Northwest Community Friends Church, 5950 N. La Canada at 12:18 a.m. April 30
* Catalina Lutheran Church, 15855 N. Twin Lakes at 9:42 p.m. May 10


Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the string of church fires as possible hate crimes.

As is the American way, all folks are innocent until proven guilty. We’re not saying Villaescusa is responsible for the latest arson – or all five of them – until a court says so.

But we do know that arsonists often have a history of other criminal behavior and, if the behavior is coupled with bed wetting and animal cruelty, is a prime indicator that the criminal could move on to bigger and better crimes – like murder.

Villaescusa’s record contains no fewer than 11 past criminal infractions, according to Pima County Justice Court records.

They include criminal damage, theft, three incidents of misconduct involving weapons, two incidents of false reporting to law enforcement and two incidents of drinking alcohol a mere three months prior to his 21st birthday. He was busted for drinking twice in October 2000. He turned 21 in December of that year.

To be fair, the theft charge and one false reporting charge were dismissed. He pleaded guilty to a host of others. And now he has some fine arson charges to deal with.

Perhaps little boys don’t sit around thinking they want to grow up to be arsonists, but fire starting can begin at an early age.

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Fire Setter Profiles

Curious fire setter: Usually young kid who throws matches at the family cat or plays with lighters and curtains.

Troubled fire setters: Usually youngish kid who sets fires as a cry for help or attention.

Delinquent fire setter: Generally an adolescent who is impulsive, irresponsible, has poor social skills and crappy judgment who likes to oppose authority. Often riddled with behavioral problems and bad grades.

Strategic fire setters: Usually a teen with a rap sheet and penchant for delinquent behavior who has no guilt whatsoever about the fire and laughs in the face of the consequences.

Pathological fire setter: Usually a loner who has long been fascinated with fire, likely a victim of abuse and a history of neurological or medical issues. These are rare birds.

Pyromaniacs: Please do not mix up the ho-hum arsonist with the exciting pyromaniac, someone who usually has little or no control over his impulse to burn things down.

Then there is the motivation. Folks set fires to vandalize, for revenge or for the thrill of it all. Some arsonists actually get a sexual rush after setting things aflame.

And here comes a peek at the serial arsonist:

The serial arsonist is involved in three or more separate fire setting episodes with a characteristic emotional cooling off period between fires. This period may last days weeks or even years.

Serial arson is the most serious type of arson due to apparent random selection of victims and unpredictable gaps between incidents.

Furthermore a serial arson is not a separate or distinct motive for fire setting it is a pattern of fire setting frequently encountered in revenge, excitement or extremist motivated arson

Serial arsonists often create a climate of fear in entire communities community leaders tend to compound the problem by pressuring law enforcement agencies to identify and quickly apprehend the fire setter often the arsonist evades apprehension for months while investigators become increasing frustrated by the lack of experience in handling these baffling cases

This type of arson usually involves a disorganized crime scene physical evidence is often present. The offender frequently uses available materials found at the scene and carries the source of ignition with them usually a long offender is involved.

He will tend to be minimally educated and an underachiever. He generally has poor interpersonal relationships and is socially inadequate. Often he is unemployed and if he has an employment history it is erratic and involves little or no skill.

Serial arsonists often have a history of substance abuse and a history of police contact/arrests for minor nuisance offenses.

The offender walks to the scene of the fire and generally lives within one mile of the crime scene He is very likely familiar with the crime scene and could justify his presence in the area.

It is important to analyze the cluster centers of fire activity. The tighter the cluster the closer to the area of significance to the offender.

Source: Winnipeg Police Service and Crime Classification Manual

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski



What do you think?

Have you ever hated anything enough to burn it down?

Do you know any arsonists?

Have you ever burned a flag? Styrofoam?

Someone in effigy? Please explain.


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at
This entry was posted in Crime, danger, life, Police/fire/law, Stupidity and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Arson and hate crimes: Man arrested for one church fire, four still pending

  1. andrew says:

    FAR*LOGS should be the only things burned. That was my church that burned on La Canada. The Friends Church has had a lot of vandalism over the past 16 years from break ins,  graffitti and the fires. I don’t know who would vandalize a church for crying out loud! And how come I wasn’t invited to the park? “Answer Pulsates” itc

    • Rynski says:

      dear answer pulsates,
      agree! far*logs are for burnin – but other things, like candles, incense and old photos should also be set afire. sorry to hear the la canada church was yours – booo! it is quite disturbing to also hear the friends church has been riddled with vandalism and such – geesh. vandalizing a church is very low.
      sorry about the park – you MUST come to the next one! it was an andrew u friends on facebook gig – so we’ll connect you two – you better come then!

  2. Ferraribubba says:

    Hey Rynski: In my 7 years with APD, I only rolled on one arson fire, but it was a duzy, and stuck with me all these years.
    It was a brush fire in a vacant lot, and I was called to provide crowd control. Upon arriving, I noticed a few spectators, but one rather large fellow caught my eye.
    He was about 350#, and had backed his pick-up right up to the edge of the fire, and was standing right up there in the bed, facing the fire, with his bib-coveralls down around his ankles, masturbating for all he was worth. Oblivious to everything except the flames and smoke.
    (The only time that Ferrari Bubba had ever seen anything like that before was when I was standing at a urnal in the Mens Room at Penn Station in NYC, and happened to glance over at the guy standing next to me!)
    Anyway, I jerked (sorry) him down off the truck quicker than you can say “Kiss my azz,” slapped the cuffs on him, (he was so big around that I had to link two pair of cuffs together to go around him to get his arms together behind his back, and took him 10-15 (to jail.)
    The brass was still deciding on whether to treat him a a criminal, or a mental case when I went back out on patrol, protecting Mr. & Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer that hot, smoggy afternoon.
    All in a day’s work around Disneyland, book ’em, Dano!  —  Yer pal, Officer Bubba

  3. Pesqueira says:

    The website offered appears to be generalistic in its presentation. Data presented is dated circa 1970 – early 1990’s.
    Below is the analysis offered at

    The “typical” arsonist
    Arsonists compared to each other
    Arsonists compared to other offenders
    Criminal behaviour analysis and arson
    A more in depth analysis of an arsonist can be found at
    the data presented here is circa 1997 and references the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) of the US Fire Administration(USFA) Federal Emergency Management Agency as a source.
    After reading both sites my conclusion differs from yours. The arsonist profile in this case falls more in line with an  Extremist\Motivated\Serial\Spree Arson

    Arsonist Profiles Presented
    Curious Fire setter:
    Troubled Fire setters:
    Delinquent Fire Setter:
    Strategic Fire setters
    Pathological Fire setter: Are a loner who has a life long fascination with fire
    Arson: General Characteristics
    Vandalism-Motivated Arson
    Excitement Motivated Arson
    Revenge-Motivated Arson
    Crime Concealment Motivated Arson
    Profit Motivated Arson
    Extremist Motivated Arson – Is committed to further a social political or religious cause
    Serial Arson – Arsonists who set fires repeatedly are referred to as serial fire setters.
    Spree Arson – Sets fire at three or more separate locations with no emotional cooling off period between them.
    Mass Arson.

    If I may ask a question of you.
    Whats the facination of using a macabre skull and fire picture to accompany your article?

    • Rynski says:

      dearest pesqueira,
      ??? i am unclear on this comment as i had referenced both sites you mention and the photo is clearly labeled a file photo. ??

      • Pesqueira says:

        I read different people different ways. With you I tend to read into your subtleties.

  4. andrew says:

    Hey Billie and Pesque, Get your own blog and blog away and we’ll comment on your rag, until then, calm down and quit getting so damn emotional and crawl back in your holes. “it straggly” itc

  5. Jim Kelley says:

    It is definitely a big question mark. My church was vandalized recently. The childens wing completely ripped up and destroyed. The vandals broke windows, chairs and tables, computers. It was bad. It took us bout six months to put it back in order.
    I really don’t get it. The churches in Tucson area pretty tame compared to some big city churches. Whatever the beef the arsonist has, it is obviously some deep seated resentments.

    • Rynski says:

      yuck – sorry to hear your church was targeted, too, jim. that’s harsh – esp. destroying the children’s wing. how sad.
      i don’t understand it, either – also agree with the deep seated resentments brewing with whomever is causing all the church damage, perhaps a terrible parochial school experience….

  6. radmax says:

    Satanists Rynski!…oh, hi!
    It is evident that Beelzebub’s work is afoot here, the skull on a stick is a dead giveaway. notice how it is prominent in every photo. Why I would not be the least surprised if there is a sacrificial chicken or eye of newt in the vicinity!…or it is just the handiwork of some punks with too much time on their hand and a penchant for the dramatic.
    Put ’em away for awhile and let them get used to ‘big Elmo’ washing their back for them…might just allow them to see the big picture in a whole new light.

    • Pesqueira says:

      No remorse. I bet you wear 2 earings.

      • radmax says:

        Remorse is saved for the guilty.
        Got a pegleg, parrot and patch too, cabana boy.
        I bet you dream of big Elmo. 😉

      • Pesqueira says:

        Be a man,  just ask her out, 2 earings.

      • koreyk says:

        Pesqueira, sometimes there is a thin line between cutting commentary and trolling.  Unfortunately, that line is getting further distant with each of your posts.

        Oh, and how do you know he hasn’t already asked her out?

      • radmax says:

        Conflicting interests pesqui.
        That said, I think any guy would be lucky to hitch their wagon to Rynski’s star. Intelligent, witty, knockout…rare. Oh, and she knows how to take out the trash, she deletes them. 😉

    • Rynski says:

      hahahah! radmax, you are too much. thanks for your comments, especially your very favorable ones, of course!
      trash night is monday on my block, but sometimes it seems more often in other areas.
      i, too, was thinking satanists with all the church fires – but thankfully i did not have the image of ‘big elmo’ until you brought it up, of course – hahahah.

  7. koreyk says:

    To say that I am no fan of organized religion would be an enormous understatement, but just as I have free reign to state the previous, everyone involved with these churches has an unfettered right to their own  beliefs. 

    There are numerous valid means of protest.  Arson is not among them.  These fires can only be the product of an extremely twisted mind.

    • Rynski says:

      agreed, koreyk.
      someone is angry – and twisted – for sure. the latest one actually included six counts of endangerment, prob. meaning six people were inside the church at the time.
      the crime goes from harming property to harming people. sad, for sure.
      i don’t think that’s what freedom of religion means, either….

  8. Rynski says:

    dearest pesqueira,
    i combed through today’s blogs and deleted inappropriate comments that violated comment guidelines.
    your user name, e-mail address and user ID have also been placed in the moderation queue so future comments will first be screened to insure they, too, do not violate guidelines.

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