KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Bible college student says he believed he was doing God’s will when he dressed up like a Ninja and torched an adult bookstore, police said.
Benjamin Daniel Warren, 20, told authorities that a car wreck left him convinced God was punishing him for his act of arson and led him to confess his crime two months later. His case is before a grand jury.
Defense attorney Don Coffey confirmed that Warren turned himself in and gave a statement about his role in the blaze at the Town and Country Bookstore.
Bookstore owner David Stubbs has estimated the blaze cost him as much as $600,000 in destroyed inventory and caused as much as $300,000 in damage to the building itself.
Jennifer Collins, who manages another adult bookstore owned by Stubbs, said those weren’t the only losses from what she says was a hate crime.
“It put people out of work,” Collins said. “Good, hard-working people with families lost their jobs.”
According to court records, Warren lived near the bookstore. He had been attending Crown College, a Bible school near Knoxville.
Around 4:30 a.m. Jan. 31, Warren dressed in black clothing and a black ski mask and headed on foot from his home to the adult bookstore, a warrant states. He was carrying a fake gun and a large gas can, according to court records.
He entered the store and asked the clerk if anyone else was inside, authorities said. When assured the store was empty, he ordered the clerk to leave to avoid being hurt, poured six gallons of “an ignitable liquid” inside and set it afire, they said.
Investigators had no clue who the mysterious masked arsonist was until Warren surrendered.
According to Warren’s statement to authorities, he became convinced that he would be serving God by destroying what he viewed as a pornography-peddling business.
Weeks later, though, Warren told authorities he was involved in an automobile accident that left him injured. The crash led him to realize that the arson was a sinful act not condoned by God, according to his statement.
(Contact Jamie Satterfield of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at https://www.knoxnews.com.)