Neighbors: Shirley man suffered from depression before church incident

Posted: Updated:
CENTER MORICHES -

Parishioners of a Center Moriches church attended services as scheduled Saturday just one day after a man barricaded himself inside and apparently committed suicide. 

Suffolk police say 44-year-old John Beneventano, of Shirley, attempted to set a vehicle on fire in the parking lot of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church Friday around 1:30 p.m. Investigators say responding officers followed Beneventano inside the church when he allegedly threw a gasoline can at them and tried to light them on fire.

During the standoff, police say Beneventano set a fire inside the building. He was later found dead in an apparent suicide. 

"We have to leave the soul of this man in God's hands. We prayed for him," said one parishioner.  

One woman, who did not want to be identified, says she knew Beneventano for nearly 18 years when he lived in Center Moriches.

"He started out as a normal, quiet guy. Friendly, and as the years went on things changed. I don't know exactly why it changed," she said. 

She says she noticed peculiar behaviors years ago, but none that would foreshadow Friday's incident. 

"He would walk around his van a lot in circles. Just unusual things for an adult," she said. 

Beneventano had no criminal history, but several neighbors believe he suffered from depression. He moved to Shirley after his house was foreclosed.

Police say no one else was hurt during the incident. The Diocese of Rockville Center released a statement Friday saying they are grateful to law enforcement officials and first responders and are praying for the parish, the individual involved and his family. 

They also say church services will continue to be held in the nearby auditorium.

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