Church Crime Watch 01/13/2024
This week’s crime bulletin is full of awful events at churches or involving church leaders. I found myself getting very down about it. At the end of the bulletin, you’ll find some talking points about these events for a bible study you can do with your safety ministry. Grab your team, talk about what has happened, and then go over the talking points at the end to learn about what the Holy Bible has to say about all of this.
Kentucky Man Arrested for Strangling Priest at Saint Michael's Parish
In a shocking incident at Saint Michael's Parish Catholic Church in Sebree, Kentucky, a man was arrested for attacking and strangling a priest during a church service. On December 23, the assailant, identified as Steven Sargent, entered the church dressed only in a t-shirt and underwear, causing a disturbance. He began yelling and disrespecting religion, leading the priest to confront him. The situation escalated when Sargent hit the priest in the chest and began strangling him. Fortunately, three churchgoers intervened and restrained Sargent until the police arrived. Sargent, who admitted to smoking meth shortly before the incident, falsely claimed that his home housed a meth lab on the brink of explosion. The authorities found no evidence of this at his residence. Sargent has been charged with first-degree strangulation, fourth-degree assault, first-degree disorderly conduct, and falsely reporting an incident to law enforcement. He is currently detained at the Webster County Detention Center.
Terroristic Threats Against Hope City House of Prayer, Columbus, Ohio
Cameron Tatum has been indicted for making terroristic threats against the Hope City House of Prayer in Columbus, Ohio. On December 31, 2023, the church contacted the Columbus police after Tatum threatened to "shoot up" and firebomb the church using a Molotov cocktail. The police swiftly responded, detaining Tatum as he approached the church. He faces charges of making terroristic threats, inducing panic, and aggravated menacing. The threat to the church, located on the westside of Columbus, highlights ongoing concerns about safety and security in places of worship. Tatum's arraignment is scheduled for January 12 in Common Pleas Court.
For additional information on this incident, please visit myfox28columbus.
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Priest Found Guilty of Solicitation During Confession in Missouri
Father Ignazio Medina, a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City in Missouri, was found guilty by the Catholic Church of soliciting sex from an adult during a confession. The church described this act as "a sacrilege" and "a grave form of abuse." As a result of this finding, Father Medina is now barred from holding any church office, hearing confessions, and leading or celebrating Mass publicly without explicit permission from his diocesan bishop. This decision followed an investigation launched by Bishop W. Shawn McKnight after a report was received on April 15, 2022. Medina, who previously served at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Ozark, was found guilty by decree by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome on November 27, 2023, and did not appeal the decision. The Diocese of Jefferson City supports Medina as a retired priest, despite these findings. Bishop McKnight emphasized the need to eradicate abuse from the Church and thanked everyone involved in the investigation and disciplinary process.
Read the full article at Fox News.
Church Wood Chipper Theft in Bedford County
Pennsylvania State Police are investigating the theft of a wood chipper, valued at $18,000, from the Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in East Providence Township, Bedford County, PA. The incident occurred between December 20th and 21st, 2023. The stolen item, a 2014 Altec DC1317 wood chipper, belonged to B&L Tree Services and was taken from the church's parking lot. Authorities are requesting public assistance to recover the stolen equipment and are asking anyone with information to contact the state police in Bedford. This theft underscores the challenges faced by community institutions in safeguarding their property. (Most crime at churches are in the parking lot or start in the parking lot. Many churches neglect a robust camera system that covers all angles of their lot. Look at your church and make sure your cameras can pick up facial details and license plates of cars entering or leaving the parking lot).
For further details, visit the original news source: WTAJ News.
Lewd Conduct With Child Incident in Miami Church
Roberto Ramiro Aguilar Monjarrez, 41, faces charges of lewd conduct with a 15-year-old boy in a Miami church bathroom. The incident, which occurred on November 17, 2024, was reported by the teen's parents the following day. Aguilar Monjarrez allegedly initiated inappropriate contact after overhearing the teen sharing his phone number. He asked personal questions and touched the teen, who felt uncomfortable and resisted. Aguilar Monjarrez, reportedly a former high school teacher in Nicaragua with a history of similar accusations, was arrested on felony charges. He has ties to Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and has been involved in political activities supporting the Sandinista regime. Currently, there is an immigration hold on Aguilar Monjarrez, who may face deportation due to his criminal record in Orange County. (Cameras should be positioned to monitor entrances to bathrooms, but not inside. Many predators loiter in bathrooms looking for victims. Make this a regular observation area during your patrols).
For more information, visit CBS News Miami.
Vehicle Thefts at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, Baltimore
At Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in East Baltimore, several vehicles were broken into and one was stolen during a Sunday worship service on January 7, 2024. This incident occurred in the 900 block of East Preston Street. Approximately six to seven cars had their windows smashed and were ransacked, while church member Ernest George's car was completely stolen. Pastor Rev. Ray Cotton, who has served the church for nearly 30 years, expressed his dismay over the crime, highlighting a broader issue of vandalism in Baltimore City. Despite having security guards, they were inside during the service, and the church's motion-activated cameras did not capture the thefts as they were too far away. In response to this event, Pastor Cotton has announced plans to enhance the church's security measures. (Many security team members stay inside during winter months and the parking lot goes unobserved during services. Thieves choose churches and gyms because they know they have about an hour of freedom to commit their crimes. Remember, everything will start in the parking lot).
For more information, read the full story at CBS News Baltimore.
Assault Incident Near Hamilton's Christ's Church Cathedral
A distressing incident occurred in Hamilton when a woman, significantly injured, sought refuge at Christ's Church Cathedral at 252 James St. N. on January 6. The woman, who had been held captive and seriously assaulted, managed to escape from an apartment and walked 1.6 kilometers to the church, located in a central area bustling with shops. Hamilton Police, responding to the situation, identified the location of the assault as an apartment at 181 Jackson St. They subsequently arrested a 32-year-old man, charging him with aggravated assault, utter threats, assault with a weapon, and choking. The identity of the suspect has not been disclosed. The police extended their gratitude to the public for their cooperation during the investigation. (A church is a place of refuge. If a crime victim enters the church for safety, immediately lock all entrances to keep the perpetrator from entering. Call 911 and don’t unlock the entrances until police arrive. If you can’t lock the doors, ensure that armed security is monitoring the entrance).
For more details on this incident, please visit inTheHammer.
Arrests Made in LDS Church Burglaries in Eagle Mountain, Utah
Law enforcement in Eagle Mountain, Utah, have successfully apprehended suspects responsible for the burglaries of ten LDS (Latter-day Saints) churches. The string of break-ins occurred overnight on September 23, 2023. The Utah County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 20-year-old man from South Jordan, charging him with 19 felonies and five misdemeanors. The burglaries involved forced entry into the churches and bishop’s offices, with four of the churches reporting stolen items including donation slips with money, computer equipment, and a small safe. The total damage to the church doorways is estimated at nearly $18,000. The breakthrough in the investigation came when a suspect in custody for similar crimes in Salt Lake County confessed to the Eagle Mountain burglaries and surrendered a stolen safe. Lee Pierce Baker, the main suspect, admitted to his involvement in some of the church break-ins. Additional suspected burglaries by Baker in Salt Lake County and Lehi are under investigation. Baker had indicated intentions to flee to Texas, as revealed in phone messages. (Most churches lack burglar and fire alarms. This is a must for all churches. They work and have helped me catch many burglars).
For more details, please visit Gephardt Daily.
Johnson County Church Elder Charged with Child Sex Crimes
Nicholas P. Jackson, a 39-year-old man from Bargersville, has been arrested and charged with multiple child sex crimes committed at his workplace, a church in New Whiteland, Indiana. Jackson, identified as a church elder, was taken into custody on December 15, 2023, at the church located near 560 E. Tracy Rd. The charges against him include child solicitation, possession of child pornography, and dissemination of harmful matter to a minor. The investigation revealed that from November 28 through December 15, 2023, Jackson engaged in inappropriate communications with an undercover agent, whom he believed was a 14-year-old girl. The interactions, initiated on a local chatroom app, involved Jackson expressing attraction to younger girls and requesting nude photographs. He also sent videos of himself performing sexual acts in the church and discussed visiting the agent's home. Additionally, Jackson worked as a substitute teacher. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an ongoing investigation into these allegations.
For further details, refer to the full story on Fox 59
Youth Church Leader Arrested for Lewd Molestation in Polk County
Richard Shaw, a 69-year-old youth church leader from Wyoming, was arrested by the Riverton Police Department on a first-degree felony charge of lewd molestation. The incident occurred in December in Lakeland, Polk County, Florida, where Shaw allegedly inappropriately touched a girl under 12 years old. The girl's mother reported the incident after discovering it and Shaw admitted to the act upon being confronted. Shaw, associated with "Under Command Ministries" in Freemont County, Wyoming, and working in youth ministry, is also under investigation in Wyoming to determine if there are more victims. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd emphasized the seriousness of the allegations, stating Shaw should never again have access to children. During an interview, Shaw confessed to having a pornography addiction and described the incident as "giving in to temptation."
For more information on this case, please visit WFTV Channel 9 Orlando.
Standoff at Heights Church Ends in Arrest of Metro Stabbing Suspect
A 29-year-old man, wanted in connection with a fatal stabbing on a Houston Metro train, was arrested after a standoff at a Heights church in Houston, Texas. The man, initially sought for the stabbing incident that occurred on a Red Line train at the Downtown Transit Center, was involved in a 90-minute standoff with law enforcement at the Church of Christ congregation at 1548 Heights. The suspect was previously accused of unrelated charges, including theft and family violence. The Metro train stabbing, which resulted in the death of Lasalle Whitfield, was followed by the suspect's flight from the scene, leading to a multi-day search. The suspect, known to visit the church, fled into the building when approached by Metro transit marshals. He surrendered peacefully after positioning himself on a third-story window sill. While charges related to the stabbing are pending a grand jury decision, the suspect remains in Harris County Jail with bail denied on previous charges. (Just like I mentioned above about crime victims using a church as sanctuary, suspects in serious crimes will do the same. Do scenario training that involves wanted criminals trying to access the church for sanctuary and to hide from the police).
For more details on this event, please visit Houston Chronicle.
Homicide Investigation Outside Westminster Church
Stephen “Steve” Smallwood, a 62-year-old man, was found dead with signs of homicide outside a Westminster church in Orange County. The Westminster Police Department responded to reports of an unresponsive man on January 5 on the 13500 block of Goldenwest Street. Upon arrival, officers discovered Smallwood on the ground, showing clear indications of a violent death. Smallwood, who had been homeless since around 2020, was last seen alive on January 4. He was known to frequent the area around where his body was found, as well as a nearby post office. The motive for his murder is currently unknown, and no suspects were identified at the scene. The Westminster Police Department is appealing to the public for witnesses to come forward to assist in the ongoing investigation.
For more information on this case, please visit KTLA.
Scam Targeting Latinos at Houston Church
The Queen of Peace Catholic Church in southeast Houston has issued a warning to its parishioners about a scam targeting Spanish-speaking churchgoers. Scammers posed as a priest in an email sent to several members of the predominantly Latino church, requesting urgent contact for a favor, seemingly signed by Pastor Rubén Campbell. The church has cautioned members not to fall for this trick, emphasizing that the message is a scam. This incident is part of a broader pattern of scams targeting Latino communities in Houston and across the United States. The Federal Trade Commission's 2021 report highlighted that Black and Latino consumers are disproportionately affected by scams, often involving payment methods with little fraud protection. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has noted similar schemes at other churches, with scammers exploiting vulnerable communities, including immigrants. The Houston Chronicle article underscores the need for increased awareness and caution against such fraudulent activities.
For more details on this scam, visit Houston Chronicle.
Bible Study: Seeking Peace and Justice in a Dead and Dying World
This was a rough week for me; rough researching and writing this and rough in dealing with life’s obstacles. Read the bible verse below and then use the discussion points with your team. Let me know what you think at the end by clicking the comment tab.
Micah 6:8 - "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Understanding Injustice and Crime: Reflect on the recent crimes in your community, including threats against churches, abuse of authority, and fraud. Discuss how these actions contrast with Biblical teachings about justice and love.
Response to Violence and Threats: Discuss how to respond to threats and violence as a Christian. Explore Biblical examples of peacemaking and non-violent resistance, such as Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
Supporting Victims and Promoting Healing: Consider how the church can support victims of crimes, like those affected in the reported incidents. Look at Jesus’ example of compassion and healing (e.g., Luke 10:25-37 - The Good Samaritan).
Preventing Abuse and Exploitation: Discuss ways to safeguard your community against abuse and exploitation, reflecting on principles of protection and care seen in Scripture (e.g., Psalms 82:3-4).
Role of Faith in Challenging Times: Reflect on how faith can provide strength and hope in the face of crime and injustice, drawing from verses like Romans 12:21 - "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Prayer for Justice and Peace: Conclude each session with a prayer for those affected by the crimes, for the perpetrators to find repentance and justice, and for your community to be a light in dark times.