Arlington Heights Woman Charged In Des Plaines Church Fire: Police

DES PLAINES, IL — An Arlington Heights woman is being charged with felony arson following a Tuesday morning fire that caused $78,000 in damage at The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines. Virginia Roque-Fermin, 41, of the 4200 block of Jennifer Lane, is accused of starting the fire and then continuing it by throwing various objects onto the blaze, according to police.

Bond for Roque-Fermin was set at $200,000 Wednesday by Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Anthony Calabrese at the Skokie Courthouse. She is due back in court on June 8.

After police responded to the fire at the church at around 2:31 a.m., officers said Roque-Fermin was walking quickly away from the fire and observed soot on the front of her clothes prior to her detainment.

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Officers attempted to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher, but were unsuccessful. The Des Plaines Fire Department was able to put out the fire upon arrival.

RELATED: ‘Person Of Interest’ Detained Following Des Plaines Church Fire

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According to police, the shrine is kept under video surveillance, which officers were able to view. Police said the surveillance footage shows Roque-Fermin carrying objects, including statues, buckets, chairs, and planter pots, toward the cave/grotto area of the shrine. She then starts a fire with a lighter and continues to carry surrounding objects toward the fire to stoke the flames.

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In court Wednesday, Roque-Fermin was represented by Jarnail Kanda, an assistant public defender, and was assigned a Spanish-speaking interpreter. Her lawyer said Roque-Fermin is a single mother of two and is employed at a factory. She has no prior criminal convictions, according to Calabrese.

The prosecution, represented by Cook County State’s Attorney Tristin Minx, said damage was found throughout the shrine, including charring, burned objects, fire damage as well as “disarray from knocked over objects and objects thrown.” She said there were also missing statues and artifacts.

“All personal items that had been previously placed by church patrons, including pictures, candles and other mementos, were destroyed by the fire inside the shrine,” Minx said. “The shrine is a place of religious worship on the property of the main chapel.”

Police found Roque-Fermin walking away from the shrine to the parking lot and stopped her. They asked her if she saw who had started the fire, to which she replied, “no,” and continued to her vehicle, according to the proffer. Officers then asked Roque-Fermin if she had started the fire, to which she replied, “no,” and continued walking away from police.

In the video, after starting the fire, Roque-Fermin is seen pulling a statue off of a donation box, pulling flowers out of vases in the grotto, removing a rosary, stacking chairs and moving items, according to Minx. She said another video angle shows Roque-Fermin starting the fire inside the cave and grabbing candles, crosses and signs. She is then seen throwing the items into the fire, which causes the fire to enlarge.

Prosecutors said a witness who initially called 911 saw Roque-Fermin throwing the objects into the shrine.

“To willfully destroy those objects is not just a monetary attack on the church or the shrine, but it’s an attack on all those individuals who have compelled Our Lady of Guadalupe to give them assistance,” Calabrease said before announcing his ruling. “It’s heartbreaking for each of those individuals, so the significance of the offense far outweighs the $78,000 of actual damage done to the property.”

Annually in December, thousands of Catholic pilgrims visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. The two-day gathering in Des Plaines is one of the largest in the world outside of Mexico.

According to the shrine’s website, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe finding as a shrine of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Universal Catholic Church.

“Although we are very saddened by the painful vandalism the Shrine has undergone, we are thankful for the Des Plaines police and fire departments for their rapid response to the incident,” Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe said on its website. “The Archdiocese of Chicago has been made fully aware of the incident and is being kept up to date with any new developments. The Shrine staff and volunteers will continue to welcome pilgrims to the Shrine, although we invite all to keep clear of the affected areas. We ask for special prayers of healing and reconciliation for the individual who has perpetrated this violent act.”

RELATED: A link to the video surveillance footage can be found here

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