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Brewster church fire suspect ‘mentally ill,’ family says

A three-alarm fire destroyed the Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church in Brewster.

Jake O'Callaghan

A three-alarm fire destroyed the Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church in Brewster.

Officials of a church that burned to rubble in Brewster on Friday extended forgiveness to a man charged with the crime, while the man’s parents called their son mentally ill and offered sympathy to the congregation.

Adam Finnegan, 29, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Orleans District Court in connection with the fire, which reached three alarms and consumed Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church on Main Street in Brewster early Friday.

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State fire officials said in a statement Friday night that the blaze is not connected to two other fires on Cape Cod earlier this past week: a fire that destroyed a garden center garage in Falmouth Wednesday that is still being investigated and a blaze Nov. 25 in an abandoned Harwich motel that was determined to be arson.

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said Friday that the Brewster blaze also had no connection to a recent spate of arson fires south of Boston.

Finnegan’s parents said in a statement released Saturday afternoon that their “thoughts and prayers go out to the congregation” of the destroyed church.

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“To have their church burned down, especially during this holiday season, is heartbreaking,” the statement read. “We were as shocked as the community to learn our son may have done this.”

According to his family, Finnegan has been “in and out of psychiatric inpatient care,” and had been living with his parents in Brewster before his arrest Friday.

They expressed disappointment with “the mental health system” for failing Finnegan.

“Time and time again through the years as we have looked to mental health professionals and authorities for help we are told there is nothing further they can do,” his parents said in the statement. “It saddens us greatly that the mental health system in this country is so broken.”

The church’s youth pastor, the Rev. Derek Mansker, said in a phone interview Saturday that while Finnegan was not known to the congregation, he expected the church would reach out to Finnegan’s family and offer forgiveness.

“We want his family to know that we care for them and we’re not holding this against them at all,” Mansker said. “We don’t want to have any ill will towards him, and we want them to know that. . . . We do love them as people.”

Senior Pastor Myron Heckman echoed that sentiment.

“We certainly hold no animosity towards the family,” Heckman said. “I’m sure their hearts are broken and our hearts go out to them as well. I hope to be in contact with them.”

Morale among members of the church remains high, Heckman said, though he said some, understandably, felt anger.

“It’s a very destructive act,” he said. “It’s very aggressive and really a violation of so much. . . . I think we look to Jesus Christ and his example to be able to let go of that anger and turn ourselves towards a positive end.”

Officials declined to disclose details of the arrest, including where Finnegan was apprehended and what information led police to suspect him. He is being held at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility, said Michael O’Keefe, the Cape and Islands district attorney.

O’Keefe said it would be “inappropriate” to reveal more information before Monday’s hearing, citing an ongoing investigation.

Brewster Deputy Fire Chief William Harrison said that police “already had a suspect” even as firefighters continued to battle the blaze early Friday, but gave no further details on what led police to Finnegan.

Many congregants and church leaders came to the scene of the fire Friday morning, including Mansker, who was awakened by a phone call from the church’s senior pastor.

“I felt physically ill,” he said. “It’s gut wrenching. It’s nothing you want to hear.”

Mansker said he tried to comfort the parishioners who arrived at the church.

“I gave hugs and just sort of took it in,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot said. The scene really speaks for itself.”

Church leaders scrambled to relocate a funeral service that had been scheduled in the church today, moving it to a church in nearby South Dennis.

Sunday’s services will be held at Stony Brook Elementary School in Brewster, the church said.

Mansker and Heckman said the church was tentatively planning to rebuild on the site of the burned church, and to use the school as a temporary home for Sunday services. However, other ministries of the church are still in need of a home, they said.

“The community has been so helpful,” Mansker said. “They really stepped up and provided some options in short order. The school being available at no cost is just great.”

Mansker said the congregation’s response to the fire is an opportunity for them to show “how strong and united we are under one cause, not under a building.”

“Eyes are on us in a lot of ways,” he said. “How we respond and what we do speaks volumes about who we are.”

Or, as Heckman said with a laugh, “I really have to practice what I preach now.”

Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com. Find him on Twitter at @Daniel­Adams­86.
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