The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 22, 2013

Police probe three more church burglaries

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY — At least three churches in Northumberland County were broken into recently, leaving police searching for answers.

Sunday into Monday, two churches reported break-ins, Mountain Presbyterian Church on Boyles Run Road and United Lutheran Church on Seven Points Road.

Both break-ins occurred overnight Sunday, though police would not say if the break-ins were related, citing the ongoing investigations.

Loretta Garside, a parishioner at United Lutheran Church, discovered the break-in there Monday morning, when she came to change over some of the decor at the church from Sunday services, she said.

“When I came in, UPS had left a box on the porch, so I  brought it back to office,” she said. “The doors were smashed open, everything was thrown all over the floor ... They had been through everything.”

The church’s main doors remain open, since the church is an emergency shelter, Garside said.

However, the break-in wasn’t a shock, Garside said.

“We were expecting this,” she said. “The police had come by and told us other churches in the area were broken into, so this wasn’t a surprise.”

The thieves were able to make off with two laptops and raided some snacks kept in the building for children’s groups.

“They were hungry thieves,” Garside said.

At Mountain Presbyterian Church, the actors broke into a set of double doors on the south side of the church and were able to take several items before fleeing, according to police.

Pastor Robert Reich said he arrived at the church at about 9:40 a.m., something he doesn’t normally do, when he noticed something was wrong, he said.

“I noticed that the door, it looked like someone had manhandled it,” he said. “I then went in and started checking ... I found that they had taken large tall candelabras they took it out of office work room placed it between the back pews and left it burning. I got there just as the candles were burned through and they were at the point where they would begin burning the wood.”

The intruders went through anything that looked like it may contain money, Reich said. A video camera was taken and about $4,000 to $5,000 in damage was done to the church, Reich said.

“We feel violated,” he said. “We grieve for the damage but not nearly as for those who would find themselves (turning to) acts of violence of this nature in the house of God.”

A third break-in occurred at Zion Stone Valley Church, on Mountain Road in Lower Mahanoy Township, between Oct. 13 and Oct. 16. During this incident, unknown actors broke into at least two locked rooms in the church, removing a Keurig coffee maker before fleeing the scene, police said.

This isn’t the first time thieves have targeted churches in the Valley.

This August, John J. Shaffer II was sentenced to 23 months in county jail after pleading no contest to 11 burglary and theft charges and one unrelated assault.

Shaffer also had to pay restitution to the churches and one store, which included: St. Paul’s Reformed Church of Beavertown; Salem Lutheran Church in Selinsgrove; Penn View Bible Institute; First United Church of Christ of Middleburg; St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Middleburg; Port Ann Wesleyan Church; Zion United Methodist Church in Middleburg; Grace Reformed Church of Troxelville; and L&L Market Place in Middleburg.