Molalla man pleads guilty to burning down church building
Vincent Velarde sentenced to three years in prison for 2012 arson and burglary of Grace Lutheran church building.
A Molalla man pleaded guilty Thursday to burning down the Grace Lutheran church building which had housed the non-profit social services organization Molalla Communities That Care.
Vincent Velarde, 19, admitted that he set fire to the building on Jan. 26, 2012 after stealing electronic equipment from Lynn Blatters MCTC office. He set the fire in an attempt to cover up the theft, said Clackamas County Deputy District Attorney Michael Wu.
Velardes attorney, Troy Sandlin said Velarde may have been high on drugs at the time of the theft.
After the fire, Blatter said she realized that a projector, laptop computers and cameras were missing, and reported her finding to Molalla Fire Inspector Eric Peterson.
It all boiled down to items missing, she said. So I called Eric a few days after the fire when Id found no evidence of the items in the rubble. Then he started looking at the fire from an arson angle. This was something he pursued.
Molalla Police arrested Velarde after they recovered the stolen items from a pawn shop, where Verlarde admitted hed sold them.
Velarde pleaded guilty to arson and burglary Thursday, but declined to make a statement.
Clackamas County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Jones sentenced him to three years and two months in prison, restitution of $44,369 to Molalla Communities That Care, 120 hours of community service, three years of post-prison supervision and still-undetermined costs to the insurance company for the fire damage.
Blatter made it clear to the court in her victims statement that in setting the fire, Velarde wronged the entire community, not just her family.
Personally, it was devastating to see and know what we had lost, but more disturbing was that setting that fire affected the whole community of Molalla, she said.
At the center, Blatter helped students earn their high school diplomas, offered emergency food for people in need, opened the center to Clackamas Womens Services for counseling, put on free thanksgiving dinners, distributed Christmas dinner boxes and more.
We lost the capacity to continue with 70 percent of our programs, she told the judge.
The community also lost a historic building that her husband and volunteers had spent countless hours renovating.
Blatter told the Molalla Pioneer, however, that she forgives Velarde.
When he finally was arrested, he cooperated with police and admitted what hed done, so Im hoping hes realized the lifestyle he chose was not the best, she said. A lot of them deny, deny, deny. But he had a rough teenage years. So I told the judge that if Vincent should choose to change his lifestyle, all he has to do is get ahold of me after he gets out, and we will help him with resources. Oftentimes the perpetrator cannot contact the victim -- thats why I wanted the judge to know we dont have a problem with helping Vincent.
The burned-out church building was razed a couple of months ago, and last week the church submitted plans for a new building to the county, she said. Plans are still up in the air, however, for the new building, which could be used as a parsonage, but possibly provide space for a MCTC office, once again.
Since the fire, Blatter has run the program from her home.
All our active programs have been suspended, she said. But we are still doing referrals and finding resources for people.