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Mother Says Church Vandal Is Schizophrenic

June 24, 1987

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A man accused of vandalizing the city’s famous St. Louis Cathedral and destroying some of its treasures was described by his mother as schizophrenic and out of touch with reality.

Police said former mental patient Joe Wayne Reno, 35, of suburban Gretna, remained in jail today on charges of criminal damage in excess of $10,000, aggravated assault and resisting arrest by refusing to identify himself to arresting officers.

Sexton John Frentz said Reno babbled ″I am the Holy Spirit 3/8 Burn all the Bibles 3/8″ when he entered the French Quarter cathedral early Tuesday and began shattering statues, throwing candles and heavy marble fonts, overturning the archbishop’s wooden throne and throwing books of Scripture.

A preliminary, partial estimate set repairs at $25,000 to $30,000, said Monsignor Gerard Barrett, pastor of the cathedral.

Barrett said the man ″was kind of expressionless. His eyes ... were frightening. He just stared straight forward. A blank, wild expression.″

″He’s a schizo,″ said Reno’s mother, Dorothy Helmstetter. ″He’s sick. He’s been troubled since he was 11, after his father died.″

She said her son had been in and out of mental institutions for the past several years and had signed himself out of Charity Hospital less than a week ago. Soon after returning home, she said, he began reading anti-Catholic comic books.

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