It was a clash of images on Sunday in St. Paul, MN when a local man, Tuan Pham, awoke to see his beloved, custom-made Jesus statue in flames. According to family, someone took wood from a nearby pile and used a spray can to ignite a fire at the base of Pham's 7-foot ode to Christ. It's statue that has been controversial from the beginning:
Local station KARE reports:
It may have burned for awhile; Pham's daughter took pictures of her father trying to knock down the flames. Fire investigators were going over the garden a few hours later. If they find evidence of arson, they are expected pass the case on to police.
"It pains me, it's very upsetting. This means a lot to him. This is where he finds joy and where he spends a lot of his time," Phan said about his retired father-in-law.
The statue took months to ship. It is a replica of a massive one Pham helped build more than 40 years ago in his hometown of Vung Tau, Vietnam. Pham says he was jailed for his catholic beliefs before he fled the country for Minnesota.
The statue was put in place last October and a month later, Phan says, the city received a complaint about it. The family requested a variance after officials found it was not the required 40 feet from the bluff line, but that request was denied by the city council a few days before the fire.
The family wonders if the fire was racially or religiously motivated, wondering why someone would try to burn marble; guessing it was merely meant to send a message. "Why does somebody need to go this far?" Phan wondered.