Armed man arrested for threats at Mariposa church

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Exactly a week after the mass murders at a South Carolina church, fears of a similar situation struck a place of worship in the Sierra. (Mariposa County Sheriff's Office)

Exactly a week after the mass murders at a South Carolina church, fears of a similar situation struck a place of worship in the Sierra. What happened in Charleston was on the minds of everyone from witnesses to sheriff's deputies rushing to help. The scene this time was a Catholic church and although there were shots fired, nobody was hurt.

A quiet calm surrounds Mariposa's lone Catholic church on this Monday; a peace befitting the setting.

"Our churches are safe havens," said Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies. "That's where people can seek shelter and relax and not worry about all the chaos going on in the world."

But chaos came right to the front door of St. Joseph's Wednesday evening in the person of Mitch Amonds. Witnesses say the 46-year-old transient brought a weapon to the homeless food and shelter program -- Mariposa Open Arms -- held two nights a week at the church.

"A couple people mentioned that he had a gun, and when he walked past me he made a threat with it to me -- 'Third time's the charm, keep talking,'" said an Open Arms chaperone who asked us to identify him only as "Steve."

He didn't want to talk on camera, but he told Action News he thought Amonds had a .22-caliber sawed-off shotgun.

"I was a little scared but I was more mad than anything," he said.

As a pastor called 911, Amonds walked to the adjacent cemetery and fired off a few shots, so sheriff's deputies arrived to a tense scene, especially considering the massacre a week earlier in South Carolina.

"I suspect the responding deputies definitely were preparing for that," said Sheriff Binnewies.

Amonds was unarmed, aside from a bottle of vodka, when deputies found him. A K-9 unit found his weapon, which turned out to be an air rifle pellet gun, and deputies booked him into the county jail on a charge of criminal threats.

"He's a person who needs help," "Steve" said. "Maybe he'll find that there."

This was Amonds' fifth arrest in the last two years in Mariposa County. He pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday morning.
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