Arson charge laid in connection to Surrey church fire

SURREY (NEWS 1130) —  A woman in Surrey has been arrested and charged following a fire which destroyed a church in Surrey’s Whalley neighbourhood last month.

Kathleen Panek, 35, was arrested on Aug. 26 following an investigation by the Surrey RCMP Major Crime Section.

RCMP say she is of no fixed address.

The first arson charge is connected to an incident on July 14, when someone was seen on surveillance video lighting items on fire at the door of St. George Coptic Orthodox Church.

Five days later, the church burned to the ground. Crews were called to the church around 3:30 a.m. and arrived to find the building fully engulfed in flames. Despite their efforts, firefighters were not able to save the church.

Panek is facing a second charge of arson in connection to that incident.

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“It’s catastrophic for me,” a board member of the church told NEWS 1130 after the fire. “Today, for me, is a day of mourning for my church,” said Medhat Elmasry about the loss.

The fire left more than 400 families without a space to worship and in recent days have been holding services in temporary locations until the church can be rebuilt.

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Bishop Mina wrote online, “70-year-old building was much more than just a building…it was a place [where] we built community, where we shared meals, where we married our youth, baptized our babies and welcomed newcomers to the faith.”

He says the congregation plays an important part of the community, and brings together diverse backgrounds of believers such as Coptic, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Iraqi and Lebanese Orthodox.

Adding, “we are thankful to all those who have reached out and offered their churches as a temporary location where our services can continue to be held.”

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