Man held in post office fire, other crimes in Verdi |

Man held in post office fire, other crimes in Verdi

RENO (AP) – A Christmas Day fire that heavily damaged the Verdi post office was one in a string of crimes over the holiday committed by the same man, police said Tuesday.

Justin Michael Bennett, 36, was arrested Monday night after a regional law enforcement team responded to a call of shots fired on East Fourth Street. Officers reportedly saw Bennett fleeing the scene and pulled him over. In a statement, police said Bennett had a handgun but was cooperative with officers.

He was taken to the Reno Police Department, where he was interviewed and booked into the Washoe County Jail on charges of burglary, shooting into an occupied dwelling, assault with a deadly weapon and arson.

In a jailhouse interview, Bennett told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he chose Christmas to act because it would incite the public to pay attention to his message of religious morality.

“I’m sorry, I feel guilty. … I have no regrets,” said Bennett, who was being held on $50,000 cash-only bail. “It had to be done. God has forgiven me already. … If I caused sorrow or pain, I apologize for that. I did victimize innocent people. But I had to do it.”

Authorities said the crime spree began just before midnight Saturday, when shots were fired at the Sparks Police Department.

Early Christmas morning, Washoe County deputies were called to Verdi west of Reno on a report of shots fired and a fire at the post office.

Christmas night, the suspect allegedly turned his attention to Reno-area strip clubs.

Around 11 p.m., police said he left a threatening note and ammunition with an employee at the Wild Orchid on South Virginia Street before running off.

About 15 minutes later, someone shot into the parking lot of Fantasy Girls, striking seven unoccupied vehicles.

Roughly a half-hour later, police said Bennett allegedly broke into the Spice House on Spokane Street, where he set several fires and shot bullets inside the closed business.

Bennett told the Gazette-Journal that he is guilty of all the crimes and that “Jesus” spoke to him through and directed all of his violence, which caused no injuries.

He said he targeted strip clubs and Reno motels because “people should be home with their families on Christmas and at church, not at the strip clubs,” and he wants motel managers to know he doesn’t approve of drug and prostitution activity he says goes on there.

U.S Postal Inspector Steve Hofheins said the post office in Verdi, a community of 1,400 located along Interstate 80 about 10 miles west of Reno, may be a total loss. He said while no mail was burned, some mail sustained water damage from firefighters’ efforts.