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Police: Reading man admits to burglarizing three churches

By Jennifer Joas, Reporter, JJoas@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 16 2014 09:30:37 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 17 2014 04:59:52 AM CDT

Three Berks County churches were ransacked and burglarized just days apart.

READING, Pa. -

Disbelief in the house of God: pastors in Reading and Mount Penn say they were stunned when their churches were burglarized.

"When I saw it, I was appalled. Breaking into any place is bad enough, but somehow breaking into God's house is doubly bad," said Trinity United Church of Christ Pastor Debbie Derby.

Trinity UCC at 2449 Cumberland Avenue in Mount Penn was burglarized on March 2.

Police say Stephen Phillips, 18, of Reading, did everything he could to pry his way into the church office, including trying to break the glass on the door and break through both locks.

They said he finally got into the office through an outside window.

Derby said Phillips left the church office in disarray, caused more than $5,000 in damage and only walked away with $40 in gift cards.

"It seemed like a waste of his energy," said Derby.

Police said Phillips deposited a stolen check into his bank account.

After questioning him, they said he admitted to the burglary in Mount Penn, as well as the burglaries at St. Paul's United Lutheran Church and Holy Trinity Church of God, both in Reading.

"It is difficult to solve cases like this and I am feeling grateful to Central Berks and Reading police for the work they did on this case," said Derby.

Now all three churches can rest easy on Easter Sunday.

"We have two reasons to celebrate now. We can celebrate Christ's resurrection and we can celebrate the end to this case," said Derby.

Central Berks Regional Police charged Phillips with burglary, criminal trespassing, criminal mischief, theft and receiving stolen property.

Police say Phillips was very cooperative. He was released after questioning and is expected to turn himself in Thursday at Reading City Hall.