SALEM, Ore. – A man ranting about "the blood" burst into a church sanctuary during a service, sloshed fuel onto people and started a fire, police and church officials said Thursday.
Some parishioners were able to smother the flames with their coats while another group tackled the man, said the Rev. Scott Erickson, pastor of the People's Church. Two older women from the congregation were burned when their clothing caught fire.
"He ... was yelling things about the blood, and then he began to sprinkle the fluid and light it," Erickson said. "He was making slurs about things that are most precious to us."
The man's identity was not immediately released, and the Marion County district attorney's office declined to discuss information about possible charges Thursday morning.
Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Rau said the man arrested at the church was also suspected of hijacking a cab to get there and threatening a cab driver with a knife.
"We think it's someone who was mentally deranged," said the Rev. Sam Miller, who was conducting the service Wednesday night. He said about 300 people were in the church. No one in the church had ever seen the man before, he said.
One injured woman's hair and back caught fire, and she had to be rolled on the carpet to get the flames out, Erickson said. Salem Hospital reported she was treated in the emergency room and released.
The flames burned another woman's dress but was quickly extinguished, Erickson said.
"This is all very upsetting," he said. "This won't deter us from having services. We'll go on, and we can assure everyone that they are safe here."
The People's Church was closed Thursday as the sheriff's department investigated what it called vandalism and arson, Erickson said.