A pastor at a Lutheran church in San Mateo, California, has been arrested for allegedly delivering letters that contained shooting threats to another church where he is a former congregation member, officials say.
The pastor, Paul Michaelson, 79, allegedly delivered letters to the Holy Trinity Church in San Carlos on four separate occasions between Jan. 7 and Jan. 16. Each letter detailed his intentions to shoot members last Sunday, said Detective Rosemerry Blankswade of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, The Mercury-News reports.
Michaelson was arrested at his San Carlos home Thursday night on suspicion of making terrorist threats and violation of civil rights via the threat of force. No weapons were found during a search of his residence, Blankswade said.
The Lutheran community numbers 185 churches across its Northern California Sierra Pacific synod, and church members expressed shock at Michaelson’s arrest, Bishop Mark Holmerud told the Mercury-News.
“Understanding that an arrest is not a conviction, we are at a loss to understand why anyone would attempt to disrupt the ministry of a congregation whose intent is to be a haven of peace, inclusivity, and reconciliation in the community,” he said in a statement.
But Michaelson’s letters revealed a “deeply-rooted” rage that simmered over the years while he was a member of the congregation at Holy Trinity, Blankswade said. Law enforcement officials are mum about the contents of the letters but do say they contain specific threats against congregation members. As of this time, there’s no indication that Michaelson is dealing with a documented mental illness.
Based on the threats, investigators viewed church security footage and were then able to identify Michaelson, thanks to detailed accounts from church members who knew him.
“It sounded like he did not get the help he was seeking and because of that he felt deeply wronged by the church,” Blankswade said.
Michaelson is still listed as a pastor by Hope Lutheran’s website and he is no longer listed as in custody.
Featured image via Hope Lutheran Church