Rio Rancho Man Facing Federal Arson Charge Arising Out of July 31, 2017 Fire at Rio Rancho Church
ALBUQUERQUE – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has filed a criminal complaint charging Gordon Schuler, 23, of Rio Rancho, N.M., with using fire to damage or destroy a building used in interstate commerce. The charge against Schuler arises out of a fire that was ignited at the Peace Lutheran Church in Rio Rancho, causing extensive damage to the church.
According to the criminal complaint, in the early hours of July 31, 2017, the Rio Rancho Fire Department observed and responded to a fire at the church. After extinguishing the fire, firefighters determined that the fire had caused extensive damage to the church’s sanctuary and heavy smoke damage to the rest of the church. During a neighborhood canvass of the area, ATF Special Agents learned that a business located near the church had surveillance cameras that allegedly recorded Schuler, who was wearing a backpack and carrying a hammer, as he walked through the business’s courtyard in the early hours of the morning. During their investigation, fire investigators allegedly found a backpack and a hammer in the church that appeared to be the ones in Schuler’s possession in the surveillance video footage.
The criminal complaint alleges that fire investigators determined that the fire at the church was purposely caused and the result of arson. It alleges also that the church engages in interstate commerce by donating a percentage of its income to an ecclesiastic council based in Wisconsin.
The Rio Rancho Police Department arrested Schuler on Aug. 1, 2017, on an outstanding state arrest warrant for absconding from probation on a state conviction. Schuler currently is in state custody and will be transferred into federal custody to face the charge in the criminal complaint.
If convicted on the crime charged in the criminal complaint, Schuler faces a statutory penalty of not less than five years nor more than 20 years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Charges in criminal complaints are merely accusations. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the ATF office in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho Police Department, Rio Rancho Fire Department, Bernalillo County Fire Department, and the State Fire Marshal’s Office of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul H. Spiers is prosecuting the case.