Man Charged With Arson in Ashland Church Fire

The man who Ashland Police say set a church on fire has been charged with arson as a hate crime.

Michael Valente, 29, of Cincinnati, Ohio was also charged with criminal damage to religious property.

The fire broke out around 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Salem Baptist Church.

According to the criminal complaint, police discovered threatening emails sent to the City of Ashland server Friday, October 30 and Saturday, October 31 from Valente. 

The complaint says one of the emails contained information that Valente would burn Salem Church and threats that police and their families would be tortured.

Officers also checked their records system for information relating to Valente and found there had been an incident in May 2013 involving Valente and Rodney Larson, pastor at Salem Baptist Church.

When interviewed, Valente told police he had personal problems with the church and the people who run it.

He said his father used to be the church’s pastor and church elders at the time disrespected him and his family and drove his father out of the church, according to the criminal complaint.

In the complaint, Valente admitted to setting the church on fire telling police, “I burned it. Clearly I’m the one who did it.”

The building is a total loss. Church leaders are now working on plans to rebuild.

Valente will make his initial court appearance in Ashland County November 9.

According to court records, Valente has a criminal history in Hamilton County, Ohio with convictions of domestic violence, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

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