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Suspect charged with arson in St. Paul church fire

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The suspect accused of setting fires at a St. Paul church, forcing its congregation to attend services at a nearby funeral home, has been charged.

Gregory Louis Knox, 27, was charged Monday with first- and second-degree arson in connection with the Friday morning fire at St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church.

If he's convicted of both charges, he could face up to 30 years in prison, a $55,000 fine or both.

Knox had turned himself into police Friday afternoon, but has maintained his innocence, reports say.

According to the criminal complaint:

Knox had been coming to the church since July to receive help with apply for jobs, but recently his relationship with the pastor and the church's cook had soured due to thefts.

Knox is believed to have taken things from women's purses and the cook's cellphone. The phone was later returned by a man who said Knox sold it to him. The phone had "selfies" of Knox and text messages believed to have been sent by him.

Knox was told he could no longer come to the church and the pastor told police he was concerned Knox may have been responsible for the fire at the church the morning of Dec. 12.

Knox admitted to police he'd attempted to visit the church the night of Dec. 11, but the cook didn't allow him inside. He told police he was sleeping at the time of the fire.

He voluntarily offered a DNA sample, which will be submitted for testing along with a brick that was recovered from inside the church.

Knox lives near the church and neighbors say they saw him walking towards the church before the fire, as well as walking back to his home after the fire started.

No one was injured in the fire, but it did cause an estimated $100,000 in damage to classrooms and church offices, according to the Pioneer Press.

But the church is coming together and with the help of the community, programing went on as planned this weekend, KSTP notes. Sunday's service along with the children's Christmas program were held at the funeral home across the street.

Many who attended Sunday's program weren't members of the church, but came because the church is very close with the surrounding community, the Pioneer Press reports.

According to the church's website, services on Sunday Dec. 21 will also be held at the funeral home.

The fund to help the church has been set up at BankCherokee. Contributions can be sent to St. Mark Fire Fund, BankCherokee, 607 Smith Ave. S., St. Paul, MN 55107.

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