Church Crime Watch 12/31/2023
Bottom line up front:
We almost made it through the week without a shot being fired at a church. Unfortunately, we have had another and we continue the streak of some type of shots fired call at a church in the U.S. We are entering 2024 with many dangers ahead of us. I’ll be updating you as those dangers appear, so keep an eye out here and on my YouTube Channel. Keep praying, training, and remembering that it is all in God’s hands. 1 Peter 5:7
Polson Church Shooting Incident
In Polson, Montana, the Apostolic United Pentecost Church on 8th Avenue West was struck by gunfire on December 21, 2023, according to the Polson Police Department. The church building was occupied at the time, but fortunately, there were no injuries reported. Polson Police Chief George Simpson confirmed the incident and stated that both the church shooting and a separate burglary at the Depoe Junction pawn shop on Christmas Day are under active investigation. The latter involved the theft of several firearms after the front doors were forced open, with the getaway vehicle and stolen guns later recovered by the CSKT Tribal Police outside of Polson. Chief Simpson emphasized the seriousness of any incident involving gun violence and religious institutions, urging anyone with information to contact the authorities. The investigations into both incidents are ongoing, with no further details released at this time. (With threats from terrorism groups in the Middle East, we should be wary and on alert. Here, having a robust 4k video system so police can follow up and find suspects is paramount).
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Copyright Lawsuit Against Wightman United Methodist Church
Wightman United Methodist Church in Prosperity, South Carolina, is facing a lawsuit filed by New Hampshire-based photographer Erin Paul Donovan. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that the church used Donovan's photograph of New Hampshire’s White Mountains on its website without permission. Specifically, the photo was used as a thumbnail for a video of a June 2021 sermon. Donovan claims the church not only used his copyrighted image but also removed his copyright notice, name, and watermarks. He notified Wightman UMC of these allegations twice in 2023, but the matter remains unresolved. The photographer is seeking damages and a court order to prevent the church from using his photos in the future. This lawsuit highlights the legal complexities surrounding the use of copyrighted materials by organizations, including churches. Prosperity, the location of Wightman United Methodist Church, is a small town with a population of just over 1,000, and the church itself has a history dating back to 1877. (I’m including this because many churches use google to grab their images, which is a violation of copyright laws. There are now AI engines scouring the internet looking for copyrighted material and actions are being taken against transgressors. Scour your sermons, powerpoint presentations, and websites for copyrighted photos. If you didn’t take it or have express permission to use it, don’t use it. Use stock photos instead.)
Vandalism at Peace Lutheran Church in Southgate
Peace Lutheran Church in Southgate, Michigan, reported an act of vandalism where donated food intended for families in need was scattered on the ground. This incident took place on December 14, 2023, at the church located at 12250 Fort Street. The church operates a "blessing box" outside its premises, where the public can access donated food. On the morning of the incident, a church employee found various food items removed from the box and thrown around the ground. The employee suspects a man with a history of loitering on the church property to be the perpetrator and has expressed a desire to have him trespassed if he returns. This act of vandalism disrupts the church's efforts to aid struggling families in the community and highlights issues of respect and security for charitable operations at religious institutions. (Again, make sure you have a solid 4k video system to ID perpetrators).
On Christmas Day, a Beaumont, Texas church faced a bomb threat, yet this did not halt their service. Pastor John Adolph of the unnamed church decided to continue with the scheduled service despite the threat, expressing confidence in the absence of an actual bomb. The incident reflects the resilience and determination of the church community to carry on with their important religious celebration despite potential security threats. (This scenario also underscores the need for vigilance and preparedness in religious institutions against such threats, especially during significant religious events. In 30 years of police work in a busy area, no bomb threat was actually real. I have investigated IED’s and actual bombings. None of those involved a called in threat).
Arson Incident at Church Street United Methodist Church
On Christmas Day, Church Street United Methodist Church in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, experienced an arson incident. Billy Walker, 34, faces an aggravated arson charge for allegedly setting a paper towel dispenser and a bench on fire in the church's bridal suite. The incident occurred in the early hours of Christmas Day, following a Christmas Eve service. Walker entered the church through unlocked front doors and was captured on security footage. The fire alarm system alerted a custodian and the Knoxville Fire Department. Despite initially refusing to open the door, Walker eventually allowed the custodian to enter, revealing smoke and a burning smell inside the suite. (It’s imperative, with the threats we face, to have all doors and windows locked. If a door is open, a security ministry team member should be posted there. Routinely check your fire alarms as well. Many churches don’t have fire alarms, even though church arson is one of the most major crimes committed at churches).
Gun Disposal Incident at Mount Olive Baptist Church
At Mount Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack, New Jersey, an unexpected and concerning incident occurred during a charity food drive. Kerris Meadows of Saddle Brook, involved in an outside dispute with a Newark man, handed over a revolver in a bag to a parishioner at the church's food drive. Meadows was later arrested and charged with aggravated assault and terroristic threats, according to a report by News 12. He was taken to the Bergen County Jail and released on December 22. The church, located at 260 Central Ave. in Hackensack, is known for its community support activities, including the food pantry in partnership with H.O.P.E. for Ex-Offenders. This unusual incident highlights the challenges churches can face in maintaining safety and order during public service events. (If you work with high risk groups, homeless and convicts, it is imperative to have armed security team members at all events).
Burglary at New Paris Church of the Nazarene
On Christmas Eve, the New Paris Church of the Nazarene, located at 67136 Ind. 15 in New Paris, was the victim of a burglary. The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office reported that at around 5:10 a.m., the church's security company alerted them to an alarm going off on the south side of the building. Upon arrival, deputies discovered forced entry into the church and damage to the property. (A win for a church having an alarm! It would have been much worse without the alarm. Alarms are missing at most churches. Get an alarm and save yourself from future financial issues and heartaches).
Burglary at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Ruston
Zion Hill Baptist Church, located at 502 Lee Avenue in Ruston, Louisiana, was burglarized between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on December 21, 2023. The Ruston Police Department reported the incident, which was discovered by the church's pastor. The burglar made off with two wireless microphones, a laptop, a cell phone, and an unspecified amount of money. Additionally, the pastor reported damage to the side door of the church and several internal doors. The Ruston Police Department is actively seeking information on the break-in and encourages anyone with knowledge of the incident to come forward. (I’ll keep saying it. Get an alarm for fire and burglary).
Hit-and-Run Incident Involving Garfield Park Church
A hit-and-run incident late Wednesday night in Chicago's Garfield Park neighborhood resulted in a car crashing into a church, injuring two people. The incident, reported on the 4100 block of W. Harrison St. around 11 p.m., involved a gray Dodge Durango hitting a black Impala, which subsequently collided with a church. The driver of the Durango fled the scene. The two individuals in the Impala were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The Chicago Police Department is currently investigating the incident, and no one has been taken into custody.
Legal Issues at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Grovetown
St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Grovetown is currently involved in ongoing litigation related to an alleged battery incident at its affiliated Catholic school. The case, which has implications for the school's expansion plans, revolves around charges against Kasey Brooks, who completed anger management and conflict resolution training leading to the dismissal of her battery charges by Augusta Circuit District Attorney Jared Williams in September. However, the specifics of the lawsuit, whether against Brooks, the church, or both, remain unclear. (I have investigated assaults by staff at day care centers. There were always warning signs. Just because someone passes a background check doesn’t mean they are competent to monitor our children. If you see warning signs, take action to protect our kids).
Disturbance at Downtown Church in Guelph
A church service in downtown Guelph was disrupted when a 41-year-old woman caused a disturbance. According to Guelph police, the incident occurred just after 9 a.m. on a Sunday. The woman began interrupting the service by yelling, playing loud music on her phone, and undressing. When officers arrived, they found her in a pew, still playing music. Efforts by the police to communicate with her were met with her ignoring them and shouting. She was arrested and charged, with a bail hearing scheduled for the following Monday. (In any disruption, evaluate if you should monitor the situation until police arrive or if you need to intervene immediately. If you need more information on how to deal with these issues, take our FREE class on Use of Force).
Child Pornography Charges Against Pastor at Cornerstone Church of God
Rick Sentell, previously listed as a senior pastor at Cornerstone Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee, faces serious charges after an indictment revealed he possessed over 100 images of child sexual abuse. The indictment specifies that between April 1 and September 7, Sentell knowingly had material that included minors engaged in sexual or simulated sexual activity. The discovery of these images on his laptop led to charges of sexual exploitation of a minor. His arrest followed a cybertip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Sentell is scheduled for a court appearance on January 8. (Just like shootings, each week we have a person in our community violating our youth. As church safety ministry members, you play a key role in preventing this. Take a look at my article here on what you can do).
Break-ins at Two Southie Churches
Two churches in South Boston, the old St. Vincent Catholic Church on E Street and St. Monica Catholic Church on Old Colony Avenue, were broken into overnight, leading to the arrest of three suspects. The first incident at St. Vincent's involved Michael Donovan, 37, and Brendan Delaney, 50, who were detained by police after being seen entering the church with bags containing hand tools and copper wire. Both men face charges of possession of burglarious instruments and breaking and entering in the nighttime. Hours later, a break-in at St. Monica's led to the discovery of another suspect, Steven Cyr, 61, by police and K-9 Duke. Cyr, who initially gave a false name, was found in the church's basement and charged with breaking and entering in the nighttime and furnishing a false name. (K9 Duke did a great job taking these guys into custody. Let’s pray for his and his handler’s safety as they go about protecting us every day)
Arson Arrest at Ridge Lifeline Church in Paradise
Anthony Chance was arrested for setting a small fire inside Ridge Lifeline Church in Paradise, California. The incident occurred around 1 a.m., where Chance broke into the church through a smashed glass window and started a fire in the kitchen area. The fire alarms and sprinklers were activated, alerting the Paradise Police Department. Chance had called a taxi after setting the fire and confessed his actions to the driver, who then returned to the church and informed the police. Lieutenant Cameron Kovacs of the Paradise PD stated that Chance is facing charges including arson, burglary, and possibly felony vandalism. (This is the spot where I tell you to get a burglary alarm and fire alarm for your church).
Vandalism at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Big Spring
Hillcrest Baptist Church in Big Spring, Texas, was the target of vandalism when an unknown male suspect threw a large rock through the church's west doors, causing damage to the glass doors and the baptistry windows. The incident, which occurred at approximately 5:21 pm on December 26th, was responded to by officers from the Big Spring Police Department. The suspect, described as a white male wearing a black hoodie with lettering and a dinosaur on the back, black pants, and black shoes, is currently being sought by authorities. Howard County Crime Stoppers is asking for public assistance in identifying and locating the individual involved in this criminal mischief case. (A good example of why you need a good 4k video system and why you need a burglar/fire alarm. I can guarantee the officers will be able to find this kid based off of the photo and it makes great evidence later).
Disruption at Seneca County Church
In Seneca County, New York, four individuals were arrested for disrupting a Christmas Eve service at a Christian church located on Ernsberger Rd in the Town of Varick. The incident occurred just before 6 p.m. on December 24. The suspects, identified as Christopher A. Avila of Farmington, Jeremy S. Mathias of Fulks Run VA, Daniel J. Watson of Rochester, and Nathan J. Jackson of Rochester, were charged with disruption of religious service, conspiracy in the sixth degree, and trespass. Notably, Avila had previously been accused of disrupting a Rosh Hashanah service at Temple B’rith Kodesh in Brighton. Following their arrest by the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office, the four were released with tickets to appear at Varick Town Court at a later date. (Expect more of this during our Easter services in 2024 with the buildup of an expanded war in the Middle East and an increase in far left protests leading up to the election).
Sexual Assault Allegations at Oakville Megachurch
A 58-year-old former pastor of The Meeting House, a prominent Anabaptist church in Oakville, Canada, faces two additional sexual assault charges. This church, notable for its large congregation of over 5,000 attendees and 22 satellite locations in the Greater Toronto Area, had its lead pastor resign in 2022 after an investigation into an abusive sexual relationship with a victim. The initial charges of sexual assault were filed on May 31, 2022, and were followed by more women coming forward with allegations. The ex-pastor, who has begun an online ministry and is seeking donations, defended his actions in a previous blog post as an "extramarital affair" and a "dark sin." The church is also dealing with separate allegations against another pastor, and has a history of two youth pastors being convicted of sex crimes. Details of the new allegations against the former lead pastor are not fully disclosed, but Hamilton Police have confirmed the charges. (Most sexual assault investigations lead to more victims as the victims feel empowered to come forward with their complaints).