Church Crime Watch 12/4/2023
I am including things that may not necessarily be crime related, but it is more for information only. I do this because it is something I think you should be tracking for your church safety ministry.
Toddler Shot Outside River Valley Baptist Church, NC
In a tragic incident at River Valley Baptist Church in Morganton, North Carolina, a pastor's 2-year-old son was accidentally shot in the head by his brother. The shooting occurred on October 15, after church services, when the pastor’s other son found a gun in a van and inadvertently discharged it. The toddler was critically injured and airlifted to a hospital. As of November 28, the child is reportedly doing well and has returned home. Pastor Adam Vines, associated with the church, faces charges for a misdemeanor weapons offense due to allegedly leaving the firearm accessible to a child. This charge was filed after the Burke County Sheriff’s Office responded to the incident. Vines expressed his faith in God during this challenging time, saying, "To God be the glory," while acknowledging the severity of the situation. The church and local law enforcement have not provided additional comments on the matter.
Read more at: Charlotte Observer
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2 Corinthians 4:8-9:
"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
Threats to Church by 18-Year-Old in Deltona, Florida
Seth Montes, an 18-year-old from Deltona, Florida, was arrested for making numerous online threats to carry out a shooting at a church. Montes was detained following alerts from the FBI to the Volusia Sheriff's Office about his disturbing comments on YouTube videos. He referenced multiple mass shootings, including the Pulse nightclub shooting and the Club Q shooting, and expressed intentions to imitate these acts at a church. Charged with a second-degree felony for written threats to kill or conduct a mass shooting, Montes faces up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. Despite claiming he was "only trolling," his comments, which also referenced the Covenant School shooting in Nashville and the 2015 Charleston church shooting, led to his arrest. The threats were traced back to his home, where he was taken into custody by the Volusia Sheriff's Office.
Read more at: NBC Montana
Covenant School Shooting: Court of Appeals Decision on Legal Intervention
The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of allowing The Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, and parents of children at the school to intervene in a legal battle concerning the release of records related to the March 27 mass shooting. The incident, which took place at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, resulted in the tragic loss of three children and three adults. The ruling is a response to a lawsuit filed by two news organizations, a state senator, and a gun-rights group seeking public access to the shooter's writings and other records. The school, church, and families opposed this release, citing concerns over school security, potential encouragement of copy-cat incidents, and added trauma for those affected by the shooting. With this ruling, the involved parties remain active in the ongoing lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court, and the case proceedings, previously paused, will now resume.
Protection Sought for South Carolina Houses of Worship Amid Violence Threats
Religious leaders in Charleston County, South Carolina, have met with Department of Homeland Security officials due to growing concerns over the safety of houses of worship. This action follows the increased risk of attacks, especially in light of the escalating war between Israel and Hamas and rising hate crimes. Notably, the 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where a white gunman killed nine Black parishioners, remains a painful memory and a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities faced by religious communities. The Department of Homeland Security is advising on preventive measures and security protocols, emphasizing the importance of being vigilant and prepared for potential attacks. The workshop also addressed the complexities of managing armed congregants and the need for coordination with local law enforcement. Lauren Knapp, a counter-threat manager for Charleston County Public Safety, emphasized the personal commitment to preventing hate crimes, drawing from her experience with the Mother Emanuel shooting investigation. This initiative highlights the ongoing challenges religious institutions face in balancing openness and security.
Discipline for NYC Pastor After Controversial Music Video Filming
Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Brooklyn, New York, has been disciplined by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn following the filming of a provocative music video by pop singer Sabrina Carpenter. The video for Carpenter's song "Feather," released on October 31, features scenes shot inside the church, including dancing next to pastel-colored coffins with one labeled "RIP B****." The Diocese, appalled by the content and the breach of procedures, removed Gigantiello from his administrative duties and ended his role as vicar of development. Bishop Robert Brennan conducted a Mass of Reparation at the church to restore its sanctity. Gigantiello, who was not present during the filming, expressed regret, stating he had initially approved the filming to support young artists in the community, unaware of the provocative elements that would be included.
Former Church Employee Guilty of Identity Theft
Sara Ann Mock-Butler, a former employee of Pikes Peak Christian Church in El Paso County, Colorado, has pleaded guilty to identity theft as part of a plea deal. Initially facing close to 900 charges of financial crimes, the majority were dismissed after she agreed to the plea. As the church's financial director from 2017 to 2022, Butler misused nearly $350,000 of church funds for personal expenses, including a boat, truck, vacations, lingerie, and adult toys, as well as settling personal and family debts. The discrepancies were discovered by her replacement and the new pastor, leading to a financial shortfall for the church. Under the plea agreement, Butler will pay $225,000 in restitution, serve four years of unsupervised probation, and complete 100 hours of community service.
Search for Suspects in Spartanburg County Church Burglary
The Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office is actively searching for two suspects involved in a burglary at a local church on November 20, 2023. The burglary, which has prompted a law enforcement response, is currently under investigation. Details about the specific church targeted or the extent of the theft have not been provided. This incident adds to the concerns around the safety of religious institutions and the challenges they face in protecting their properties. The Sheriff's Office is likely to release more information as the investigation progresses and efforts to apprehend the suspects continue.
(Ed. note) Churches need to have burglar and fire alarms. Over 30 years of law enforcement, I saw many churches victimized. Had they had a burglar alarm, we could have caught the perpetrators or stopped the theft altogether. Also, don’t forget the value of a great video system to capture the bad actors involved.
Central City Church Theft: Suspect Sought
The Central City Police Department in Kentucky is seeking public assistance in identifying a suspect involved in a recent theft at Mt. Zion Church. The suspect, captured in photos released by the police, was seen riding a black moped. The nature of the property stolen from the church has not been specified. The police have urged anyone with information about the suspect to contact the Central City Police Department or Muhlenberg County Dispatch. This incident underscores the ongoing concerns regarding security and safety at places of worship.
Laicized Priest Seeks Information on FBI's Alleged Targeting of Traditionalist Catholics
Frank Pavone, a laicized priest and leader of Priests for Life, has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to investigate the FBI's alleged targeting of traditionalist Catholics. This action follows a leaked FBI memo from the bureau's Richmond, Virginia office, suggesting potential links between traditional Catholics and violent extremist groups. The controversy began in February when the memo titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities” was leaked. Catholic leaders, including Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, criticized the memo. Pavone's FOIA request aims to uncover the full extent of the FBI's investigation, including possible involvement of Catholic leaders. The Vatican had previously removed Pavone from the priesthood for disobedience and inappropriate social media activity.