Vienna police are investigating a conflict between a guest and workers at the town’s hypothermia shelter that involved a bomb threat.
Officers responded to the Vienna Presbyterian Church (124 Park Street NE), which is hosting the shelter, at 3:04 a.m. on Feb. 2 after a man fought with a staff member and “threatened to bomb the church,” according to the Vienna Police Department’s Feb. 1-8 crime recap.
“A patron of the Church’s hypothermia shelter was sleeping in front of the exterior door,” the police summary says. “When a shelter worker asked him to move, the man became upset and smashed the window inside the door. The man then threatened to bomb the church before running from the scene.”
The man was arrested “off site” on Friday (Feb. 9) and has now been charged with two felonies, according to Vienna Presbyterian Church Missions Director Sue Hamblen. A Vienna Police spokesperson confirmed “an arrest was made and the man was taken into custody in Fairfax City.”
“We will pray that he receives the help he needs to reclaim his life,” Hamblen told FFXnow by email. “VPC recognizes the risks of opening our building to potential disruption, but our faith commands us to care for those in need.”
The church is a regular host site for Fairfax County’s Hypothermia Prevention Program, which provides overnight shelter during the winter to people experiencing homelessness. During its two weeks at Vienna Presbyterian, the shelter is overseen by the nonprofit New Hope Housing, which also helps transport guests.
The Feb. 2 incident began when the man “became extremely agitated,” a reminder of the mental health challenges that many guests of the shelter face, Hamblen says.
“Despite New Hope’s best efforts to deescalate the situation, the guest left in anger,” she said. “He broke one of our exterior doors with a skateboard and, in anger, suggested that he might consider setting a bomb off in the church.”
In response to the encounter, the church and New Hope both implemented enhanced security measures for the shelter. Church staff increased their video surveillance of the property and began making more impromptu visits overnight, while New Hope added a third worker to its on-site staff.
The Vienna Police Department also provided nightly patrols “as an additional safeguard” and worked with staff around 4 a.m. “on several mornings to inspect every single room, restroom, pew and stairwell to ensure all was secure,” Hamblen said.
Despite the occasional obstacles, Hamblen says Vienna Presbyterian is proud to serve as a hypothermia shelter, hosting over 500 guests across 154 nights since first joining the program almost 10 years ago.
“We have met some incredible people, and indeed faced a few challenges as well,” Hamblen wrote. “Our congregation loves this opportunity to serve those in need, and we realize that any one of us could be in a position to need a similar helping hand at any time in the future.”
Running until March 31, the Hypothermia Prevention Program relies on nonprofit partnerships and volunteering faith groups, along with the county’s permanent shelters. It typically draws over 1,000 people each season, averaging 215 guests per night during the 2022-2023 season, per the Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness website.
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