Church Crime Watch 01/07/2023
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Church Burglary and Domestic Violence Incident in Hall County
On Christmas Eve, a Gainesville man, aged 24, was arrested in Hall County, Georgia, following a domestic violence incident and subsequent burglary at the Mountain View Baptist Church. The suspect, identified as Samuel Alejandro Carlos, allegedly injured two women in a domestic altercation, which occurred in the presence of a young child. After fleeing the scene, Carlos was later involved in a burglary at the nearby church. The damage to the church, including broken stained glass windows, a glass door, and sheet rock, was estimated at over $15,000. Carlos was apprehended near the church and faces multiple charges including battery, cruelty to children (3rd degree), possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, second-degree burglary, and second-degree criminal damage to property. He is currently held in Hall County Jail without bond. (People under the influence of drugs, especially methamphetamine, can become very violent. Fighting someone on meth is best left to the police. If a suspect flees the church, just lock the doors and let law enforcement know his direction of travel).
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Meth Users Break-In at Faith Hope and Love Ministries, Gastonia
Faith Hope and Love Ministries in Gastonia is grappling with the aftermath of a severe break-in that occurred shortly after Christmas. The incident involved the shattering of a kitchen window and the theft and contamination of food stored in the church. Intruders reportedly smoked methamphetamine in the kitchen, forcing the church to discard all food due to safety concerns.
Gun Incident at First Baptist Church of Burlington
A distressing incident occurred at the First Baptist Church of Burlington, where a man armed with a gun sought help from his pastor. The incident unfolded in the evening when the pastor received a call from the man, asking to be picked up from a local store. Once at the church office, the man disclosed his struggles and expressed a belief that others would be better off without him. In a concerning turn of events, he then placed the gun to his head and requested the pastor to pray with him. Although they prayed together, the man left the church premises shortly afterward, prompting the pastor to call 9-1-1. The police have identified the individual as Joseph Whaley and are planning to locate him to ensure his welfare and to inquire about the incident. (If someone pulls a gun on themselves, or a knife for that matter, seek cover immediately. Obviously we want to pray with them, but do it from safety where they can’t harm you. Many self harm incidents escalate when people harm others, even those they love, prior to harming themselves.)
Nicaragua Intensifies Crackdown on Catholic Church
In a significant escalation of tensions in Nicaragua, the government has arrested four more priests from the Archdiocese of Managua, as reported by Reuters on December 30, 2023. This recent action brings the total number of clergy members detained in the past three days to 12. The Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, who has been in power since 2007, is spearheading this crackdown on the Catholic Church and its political adversaries. Among the detained are Priests Mikel Monterrey, Gerardo Rodriguez, Raul Zamora, and Monsignor Miguel Mantica. Notably, Monterrey and Zamora had previously sheltered university students targeted by the government in 2018. The government's aggressive stance against the Church follows accusations by Ortega against priests of orchestrating a coup, particularly after they demanded justice for those killed in the 2018 protests and called for early elections. The situation has escalated since August 2022 when Bishop Rolando Alvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison. The Nicaraguan government has not responded to requests for comment on these latest arrests.
Fireworks-Related Fire at Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Advent, Trenton
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Advent in Trenton, New Jersey, experienced a fire incident, now under investigation, which involved fireworks. On January 2, 2024, at around 1 a.m., crews responded to the church after an unknown item, believed to be related to fireworks, sparked a fire. The church personnel tried to control the situation by placing the ignited object in a trash bag and moving it outside. Unfortunately, this action led to the bag catching fire, with flames ascending up the building's side. The fire was successfully contained before it could infiltrate the interior of the church. Damage was minimal, affecting only a small section of the rain gutter and leaving charred debris on the ground. There was no significant damage to the church's exterior. The fire marshal and Mercer County prosecutor's office are conducting a thorough investigation to determine the exact cause and details of the fire.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Mormon Church in Utah
Nearly 50 people attending a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse in Monroe, Utah, were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, as reported by NBC News. The incident occurred 174 miles south of Salt Lake City, where 54 attendees of the Monroe East chapel reported symptoms. Of these, 49 were treated for elevated levels of the poisonous gas. The cause of the incident was traced to a malfunction in the building's heating system. Church officials have closed the meetinghouse to address the safety issues and are supporting the medical and other expenses for those affected. The church expressed concern for the well-being of the impacted individuals and is praying for their recovery. Further details about the conditions of those affected were not immediately available.
South Carolina Pastor Arrested on Multiple Felony Charges
Albert Benjamin Wharton, an 86-year-old pastor, has been arrested and charged with 30 felony counts, including indecent liberties with a child and aggravated sexual assault. These charges relate to his tenure at Victory Baptist Church’s Berachah Christian Academy in Warsaw, Virginia, between 1981 and 1997. Wharton, who served as the lead pastor at this church from 1976 to 2002, was apprehended at his home in Pickens County, South Carolina, on December 8, 2023. This arrest is the culmination of a 15-month investigation initiated by a victim's report, with assistance from the FBI's behavioral analysis unit. Following his extradition to Richmond County, Wharton has been released on bail and is currently under house arrest. He is prohibited from attending, leading, or pastoring at any church as part of his bail conditions. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office encourages anyone with information relevant to the case to come forward.
Felony Stalking Charge Against Elderly Man in Idaho Falls
In Idaho Falls, 81-year-old Victor Otto Erickson faces a felony first-degree stalking charge after multiple incidents of harassing and stalking a leader of a Latter-day Saint congregation. The most recent event occurred on December 31 when Erickson was found hiding in the bathroom of an unspecified chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from which he had previously been trespassed. Erickson, who had a civil protection order against him expiring in September 2025, confronted the victim and another church leader with a plastic shovel and two handwritten cards with antagonistic messages. This incident follows a similar encounter on December 24, where Erickson had attempted to deliver handwritten cards with similar content. During his arrest, Erickson expressed intentions to continue his actions, citing his adherence to "spiritual law" over state and federal laws. He was booked into the Bonneville County Jail with a $25,000 bond and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on January 12. Erickson’s actions and statements indicate a persistent disregard for legal restrictions and a fixation on the church leader. (Churches very frequently are hesitant to obtain restraining orders against persistent problem people or to issue trespass notices against those that continually disrupt the church. It may be a piece of paper, but it does work many times to keep those people from disrupting again.)
Theft Charges Dropped Against TN Pastor Stevie Flockhart
Stevie Flockhart, a celebrity pastor at 901 Church in Bartlett, Tennessee, near Memphis, had multiple felony theft-related charges against him dropped. This decision followed the alleged victim church's payment of over $6,000 in disputed credit card charges. Flockhart did not admit any fault in the matter. The charges, including identity theft and theft of merchandise, were dismissed by Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Ronald Lucchesi in Memphis. The allegations stemmed from Flockhart's actions while at the church, where he was accused by Mark McCall, the church's finance director from 2015 to 2022, of opening a PayPal credit card account in McCall's name and incurring unapproved charges. Despite the resolution of criminal charges, the situation remains contentious, with McCall disputing Flockhart's ethical conduct and the church ultimately bearing the cost of the disputed expenses. Flockhart, who had previously faced legal issues for forgery, is also known for his appearances on "American Idol" and "The Voice."
Car Crashes Into New Generation Harvest Church, West Englewood
A car crash occurred at the New Generation Harvest Church in West Englewood, Chicago, on Tuesday night. According to the Chicago police, a dark-colored sedan was driving erratically around 11:17 p.m. in the 7300-block of South Ashland Avenue when it collided with a white sedan. The impact caused the white sedan to swerve and strike the side of the church. Following the collision, the driver of the dark sedan fled the scene. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries from this incident. The circumstances surrounding the erratic driving and the subsequent crash are under investigation by the Chicago police.
Justified Shooting of Dog at Grace Tabernacle Family Outreach Center
In Kansas City, Kansas, a dog was shot and killed outside the Grace Tabernacle Family Outreach Center on New Year’s Eve. The incident occurred as church members were entering the building for a service. Kansas City Police Department (KCKPD) reported that the husky, named Kylo, was acting aggressively towards people arriving at the church. An employee of the church, fearing for their safety, shot and killed Kylo. Wyandotte County Animal Control laws allow for the use of reasonable force to defend against vicious or trespassing animals, and based on the investigation and these laws, the KCKPD ruled the shooting as justified. The dog's owner, Ashley Hogan, disputes the necessity of the shooting, stating that Kylo, a one-year-old husky, had no history of aggression. No charges are being filed against the church employee who shot Kylo. (This is something I had to deal with routinely as a Narcotics Detective. I’ll put out training to deal with aggressive dogs at some point this year over at our online training portal. As with all of our training, this will be free).
Raleigh Church Break-In Leads to Arrest
Wallace Eubanks, a 38-year-old Raleigh resident with a history of multiple break-in convictions, was arrested for breaking into the Capital City Church of God in Raleigh. Eubanks faces charges of injury to personal property, breaking and entering a place of worship, and habitual breaking and entering. The incident, which occurred at 1500 Hedingham Blvd., involved Eubanks breaking a church window, causing damage exceeding $200, and damaging a portable fire extinguisher. The arrest records indicate that this incident is part of a pattern for Eubanks, who has been previously convicted of at least four counts of felony breaking and entering. The case highlights ongoing concerns regarding security at places of worship and the challenges of dealing with repeat offenders in the community. (As with all break in stories, I’ll keep saying, please get a fire/burglar alarm for your church and reinforce all entry points).
Vandalism at Pro-LGBTIQQ Church in Atlanta
2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV) "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV): "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
I’m putting my comments up front for a reason. Leave a comment after reading this story on your thoughts.
Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta, a pro-LGBTIQQ house of worship, was targeted by a vandal who aggressively tore down their sign promoting inclusion. The incident occurred on Tuesday afternoon at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Park Drive NE. Pastor Matt Laney expressed that the church, which proudly serves about 40 percent LGBTQ members, is committed to being a welcoming space for all, emphasizing God's love and inclusion. The vandal's actions are believed to be motivated by disagreement with the church's support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning individuals. This act of vandalism is not isolated, as another LGBTIQQ-friendly church in the area, The Church at Ponce and Highland, experienced similar incidents in the previous year. The Atlanta police are investigating the incident. Despite this act of hatred, Pastor Laney remains undeterred, stating that such events only strengthen the church's resolve to spread love and light. (Each week, I have seen crime like this against churches going against biblical teaching. I have not put anything in our bulletin about them, but it still comes each week. Let me know what you think in the comments).
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