Suspected arson causes 'significant' damage to Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines
Authorities say a woman who apparently was in distress stacked flowers and other items in an outdoor chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines early Tuesday morning and set them ablaze, scarring a site that's sacred for many area Catholics.
The fire caused an estimated $50,000 in damage to the shrine and destroyed five statues, said Andy Lepe, a representative of the shrine.
"The damage was significant," he said.
Des Plaines police say they have detained a person of interest in connection with the suspected arson, but charges have not yet been filed.
According to police, officers responded at 2:31 a.m. Tuesday to reports of a fire at the shrine, at 1170 N. River Road on the campus of Maryville Academy.
Officers attempted to extinguish the flames but were unsuccessful. Des Plaines firefighters arrived shortly after and were able to put out the blaze, authorities said.
Lepe estimated that the fire burned for more than 10 minutes.
The fire occurred in a chapel surrounding a statue of Jesus on the west plaza of the shrine. That statue and statues of St. Jude and St. Michael the Archangel were destroyed by the fire.
"There was structural damage to the chapel as well," Lepe said.
Security video footage shows a woman approaching the chapel, collecting flowers and other items left at the chapel, and then setting the pile on fire, Lepe said.
"She did not look familiar. She did appear to be in some kind of distress. Anger, frustration is how you could describe what she was showing," he said.
Lepe said the shrine plans to launch an online fundraiser to help pay for repairs.
The site is the most-visited shrine in the U.S. dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the second most-visited in the world after the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico. It commemorates reported visions of Jesus' mother, Mary, in Mexico City in 1531.
Every December, the shrine hosts the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which draws more than 100,000 pilgrims from across the region for special Masses and other events.