Burglary suspects accused in fire at Valley City church
Arson charges were filed against two suspects in an Oct. 21 fire that caused an estimated $2.5 million in damage to Faith Lutheran Church in Valley City.
Andrew Michael Miklas, 25, of Valley City, has been charged with arson, a Class B felony; endangering by fire or explosion, a Class C felony; two counts of burglary, a Class C felony, and theft of property, a Class B misdemeanor. Nicole Ellen Lindermann, 18, of Kathryn, has been charged with criminal conspiracy to commit arson, a Class B felony; criminal conspiracy to commit burglary, A Class C felony, and criminal conspiracy to commit theft of property, a Class B misdemeanor.
Barnes County State’s Attorney Lee Grossman said the suspects already faced charges from an Oct. 6 burglary at the same church when $50 was allegedly stolen. Miklas faces conspiracy, burglary and theft charges while Linderman faces a conspiracy charge.
On Nov. 12, Lindermann was interviewed by North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Troy Kelly. In an affidavit in support of probable cause, Kelly said Lindermann acknowledged that she and Miklas were involved in a series of burglaries at Faith Lutheran Church prior to Oct. 21. On the night of the fire, Lindermann said Miklas told her he wanted to get more money from the church. He used a screwdriver to pry the doors of the church open. Both suspects then entered the building, where Miklas failed at attempts to break into other rooms. Lindermann said Miklas took three bottles of wine and $20 in cash.
“Nothing they ever took was anything major,” said Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson. “These were just petty thefts; they were looking for money that was just lying around, that sort of thing.”
Lindermann said Miklas tried to start a fire in the church using some paint thinner he had found inside, but it did not catch. The two returned to Lindermann’s residence, where, after drinking some of the stolen wine, Lindermann said Miklas told her he wanted to go back and set the church on fire to cover up the burglary. She said Miklas found a gas can in the bed of a nearby pickup, which Lindermann carried to the church. Miklas took the can and a lighter while she waited outside, he returned and said, “Let’s go.” As they were walking away Miklas threw the can over a fence into a nearby backyard.
Special Agent Derek Hill of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Fargo determined the fire started in three separate areas of the church and ruled out any causes that would have been electrical or weather related. On Nov. 5, Faith Lutheran Rev. Jolene Knudson-Hanse told Kelly that she had been approached by a resident in the neighborhood who found a gas can in her yard a few days after the fire.
Burglaries also occurred at the Congregational Church of Christ, Our Savior’s Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran in Valley City in September, and the VCPD is still investigating those cases.
Faith Lutheran Church Council President Tory Hart said the congregation is moving on after the fire. They have set up temporarily in a vacant building that used to house the U.S. Department of Agriculture office in southwest Valley City. During the council’s annual meeting on Jan. 26, the council will decide how to proceed with the settlement the church received from its insurance company.
“Our congregation has grieved the loss of the church but we’re pretty fortunate the congregation has stuck together,” Hart said. “What we’re looking forward to is the opportunity created by having to redo or rebuild a site.”
Sun reporter David Luessen can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org