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Thieves target churches; parishioners pray for justice

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 11 2014 04:58:58 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 12 2014 05:42:16 AM CDT

Three churches were ransacked and burglarized just days apart, and the cases are believed to be connected, police said Tuesday.

MOUNT PENN, Pa. -

Three Berks County churches were ransacked and burglarized just days apart, and the cases are believed to be connected, police said Tuesday.

Pastor Debbie Derby was still trying to fix the damage left behind by a cold-hearted crook Tuesday.

Office doors, filing cabinets and drawers inside Trinity United Church of Christ on Cumberland Avenue in Mount Penn were destroyed. Most of the mess has been cleaned up, but the pain still lingers.

"I thought it was absolutely ridiculous that somebody would break into a church," said Derby.

According to the pastor, the thief pushed aside the air conditioner, broke in through the kitchen window and made a beeline for the church office in search of money.

"They managed to go through the mail slot, open the dead bolt and then they jimmied the lock with a fork," said Derby. "The only thing of value they stole was $40 worth of gift cards that we had for our children for prizes during Sunday school."

The sanctity of the church was violated, and more than $5,000 worth of damage was left behind.

The burglary at Trinity United Church of Christ happened March 2. Two other churches in Reading were burglarized between Feb. 27 and Feb. 28.

St. Paul's United Lutheran Church at 16th Street and Perkiomen Avenue was one of the churches hit.

"They used a paschal candle as a battering ram," said Keith Humbert, security director at St. Paul's.

According to Humbert, the crook used the holy candle to beat down the pastor's office door. A cross was found on the ground, blood on the door and about $150 was stolen. They also smashed through a window in the choir room and ransacked the place.

"They opened a lot of cabinets and strewn paper all over the place," said Humbert. "What we do for this neighborhood over the years, it's hard to take."

It didn't stop there. Holy Trinity Church of God in the 100 block of Buttonwood Street in Reading was also burglarized.

Now, parishioners at all three churches are praying for justice and they want the person responsible caught.

Central Berks Regional and Reading police are working together on the case. They sent blood and fingerprints left behind to the lab for testing. They're hoping results will be the key to solving this disturbing case.

If you know anything that can help police make an arrest, call Crime Alert Berks County at 877-373-9913.