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Arson charges laid in connection to fire that destroyed Surrey, B.C., church

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VANCOUVER — Arson charges have been laid in connection to a fire that destroyed a church in Surrey, B.C., last month.

St. George Coptic Orthodox Church burned to the ground on July 19. The week before, there was another small fire at the same building. At the time, Mounties said the fires appeared to be suspicious, but didn’t have evidence linking the two incidents.

In a statement Monday, Mounties said a 35-year-old woman was arrested on Aug. 26. Kathleen Panek was charged with two counts of arson in connection to the July 19 and July 14 incidents, police said.

After the fire, the church’s bishop said the community was devastated.

“Our church was more than a building … it was a place we built community, where we shared meals, where we married our youth, christened our babies and welcomed newcomers to the faith,” a statement from Bishop Anba Mina said. 

“We are in shock and struggling to cope in the emotional wake of this incident.”

Mounties didn’t say whether the fires at the Surrey church were connected to any other recent fires and vandalism at religious buildings in Metro Vancouver.

“The loss of the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church has had a significant impact on members of that congregation and the greater community,” said Sgt. Elenore Sturko in a news release.

“We hope that this announcement of an arrest and charges will bring some comfort to those who were impacted.”

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