Man arrested in church fire, vandalism in Brandon

Associated Press

Last update: 19 August 2003

BRANDON -- A 22-year-old man was arrested Monday and charged with setting fire to a church and vandalizing other buildings nearby, authorities said.

Karl Freudenberger, who has an extensive arrest record in Hillsborough County, was arrested on a tip and admitted committing the crimes, the sheriff's office said.

The fire at Apostles Lutheran Church forced the congregation to hold their services in a nearby social hall Sunday. The blaze caused about $20,000 damage.

"In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, 'Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you,"' Pastor C. Handlee Vige said in his Sunday sermon. "Today we are called to pray for those who have desecrated our church. And we do pray that their hearts might be touched by the love of God."

During the weekend, windows were broken at the chapel of First United Methodist Church and someone spray-painted a swastika, an upside-down cross, a pentagram and the words "Chaotic Oblivion" in black on the wall outside Argoe Photography. Similar pentagrams appeared on a branch of AAA and Whidden Florist across the street.

At the Lutheran church, a heap of debris lay in the vestibule, including the remains of two flagpoles, one topped with a cross, and the torched Christian and American flags they carried. Pieces of a stained-glass window decorated with the seal of Luther lay on the carpet.

The vandals overturned the altar and the pulpit, crashing a Bible to the floor, Vige said.

Freudenberger was charged with burglary, arson and criminal mischief. He was in jail Monday evening. Bond had not been set and he didn't yet have an attorney.