Two suspects have been charged with the arson that destroyed Faith Lutheran Church in Valley City in October.
Andrew Miklas, 25, of Valley City, and Nicole Lindermann, 18, of Kathryn, were charged in Barnes County District Court on multiple counts in the arson and prior burglary of Faith Lutheran on Oct. 21.
Miklas was charged with class B felony arson, class C felony endangering by fire or explosion, two counts of class C felony burglary and class B misdemeanor theft of property.
Lindermann was charged with class B felony criminal conspiracy to commit arson, class C felony conspiracy to commit burglary, and class B misdemeanor criminal conspiracy to commit theft of property.
The fire was reported just after 3:30 a.m., on Oct. 21, at the church located on Fourth Street, Valley City. After several hours, the fire was extinguished and an investigation was started by the Valley City Police Department, the Valley City Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. This investigation revealed arson as the cause of the blaze which caused about $2.5 million in damages to the church. It was determined by Special Agent Derek Hill of the Fargo Bureau of ATF that the fire originated in three distinct and separate areas inside the church: the secretary's office, the quilting supply room and the boiler room.
During the weeks leading up to the fire, several area churches and the Barnes County-Valley City Public Library were burglarized or had break-ins attempted, including Faith Lutheran Church. It was believed at that time, according to Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson, that all of the events were related.
Miklas and Lindermann were subsequently charged with a burglary at Faith Lutheran.
During the investigation into the arson, authorities believed that Miklas and Lindermann were at Faith Lutheran on Oct. 21 and committed a burglary then used the arson to cover up the burglary.
Lindermann later gave credence to that suspicion when she told Special Agent Troy Kelly of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation of the pair's activities at that time.
According to a sworn affidavit, Kelly swore on Nov. 12 in support of probable cause, Lindermann told Kelly during an interview that Miklas wanted to get more money from the church. Lindermann said she didn't want to, because she was concerned about perceived GPS tracking in the ankle bracelet he wore as a condition of bail, but she accompanied Miklas to the church anyway.
Lindermann told Kelly that Miklas used a screwdriver to pry open the door of the church and walked in. After trying several interior doors in the building and finding them locked, she said Miklas took $20 and three bottles of wine. She said Miklas tried to start a fire next to double doors using paint thinner he found inside the church, but it smoked and never caught fire.
Lindermann told Kelly that she and Miklas walked back to Lindermann's home where Miklas drank some of the wine and wanted to go back to the church stating that he wanted to set the church on fire to cover up the burglary. Lindermann told Kelly that Miklas found a can of gasoline in the bed of a pickup a few blocks from the church. Lindermann said she carried the gas can to the church where Miklas took the can and a lighter and entered the church.
Lindermann told Kelly she stayed outside and watched and when he returned Miklas said, "Let's go." As they walked away, Miklas threw the gas can over a fence into someone's back yard, Lindermann told Kelly. The can was later found after Pastor Jolene Knudson-Hanse was approached by someone who lived near the church.
Miklas and Lindermann were charged in late October with a Faith Lutheran burglary. Lindermann turned herself in and was later released, while Miklas remained at large until Nov. 10, when the pair were arrested in a Hillsboro, N.D., motel where two stolen trucks were also recovered.
According to Thompson, this investigation is still continuing as there are still several church burglaries that remain unsolved. Anyone with any information on the Faith Lutheran arson or any of the church burglaries or attempted break-ins should call the Valley City Police Department at (701) 845-3110.