Woman charged in fire that damaged Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines

The blaze caused more than $78,000 in damage to the shrine, a sacred site to many Chicago-area Catholics.

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Tape and barricades block off the destroyed remains of the Chapel of Resurrected Christ at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in Des Plaines, Ill.| Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Tape and barricades block off the destroyed remains of the Chapel of Resurrected Christ at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A woman has been charged with arson in a fire that damaged the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines early Tuesday.

Virginia Roque-Fermin of Arlington Heights was arrested as police responded to the fire at 1170 N. River Road about 2:30 p.m., police said. Roque-Fermin, 41, was seen walking away from the shrine, police said.

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Officers attempted to extinguish the flames but were unsuccessful. Des Plaines firefighters arrived shortly afterward, authorities said.

Surveillance footage shows Roque-Fermin carrying statues, buckets, chairs and planter pots toward the grotto before starting a fire and then continuing to carry surrounding objects toward the fire to stoke the flames, police said. Officers found soot on the front of her clothes.

The blaze caused more than $78,000 in damage to the shrine, police said.

“The damage was significant,” said Andy Lepe, a representative of the shrine. He estimated that the fire burned for more than 10 minutes before it was extinguished.

A group of people stand behind a barricade taking in the destroyed remains of the Chapel of Resurrected Christ at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in Des Plaines, Ill.

A group of people stand behind a barricade taking in the destroyed remains of the Chapel of Resurrected Christ at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A fire early Tuesday caused $50,000 in damage.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The fire occurred in a chapel surrounding a statue of Jesus on the west plaza of the shrine. That statue, as well as those of St. Jude and St. Michael the Archangel, were destroyed by the fire. Two other statues of angels were also damaged.

The statue of Jesus that was destroyed in the fire was brought to the shrine from Mexico in the early 2000s after a previous statue was vandalized and burned, Lepe said. The statues of St. Jude, St. Michael the Archangel and the angels were added to the shrine’s plaza in 2013 and 2014.

“Although we are very saddened by the painful vandalism the shrine has undergone, we are thankful for the Des Plaines Police and Fire Departments for their rapid response to the incident,” the shrine said in a statement. “We ask for special prayers of healing and reconciliation for the individual who has perpetrated this violent act.”

Jose Davila, of Bolingbrook, visited the shrine Tuesday evening. He said the damage was sad to see, but he was grateful to hear of the arrest because the shrine is an important landmark to his community.

“It’s one of the most sacred places for us,” he said. “It’s very, very sad for us because everybody comes here to pray.”

Maryann Johnston, who lives in Arlington Heights, said she goes on walks near the shrine and often sees people gathering. People of all ages come to pray and “give the Lord what you need and ask for help,” she said.

“This is gone, but I know all the prayers are up there, and that’s what it’s about,” she added.

A group of people stand behind a barricade taking in the destroyed remains of the Chapel of Resurrected Christ at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in Des Plaines, Ill.

“Although we are very saddened by the painful vandalism the shrine has undergone, we are thankful for the Des Plaines Police and Fire Departments for their rapid response to the incident,” the shrine said in a statement.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The shrine launched a GoFundMe page to help pay for repairs.

Roque-Fermin was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

Contributing: Daily Herald, Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

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