Thursday, March 13, 2003

Vandals cause $40,000 damage to small church

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Rev. Max Burris can't understand why vandals broke into the tiny Church of God.

BATAVIA TOWNSHIP - Members of the tiny Church of God say they'll rely on prayer, their faith and each other to overcome what authorities are calling the worst act of vandalism in more than a decade in Clermont County.

"We're going to come out of this stronger," Shirley McKinney, a 30-year member of the Straight Street church, said on Wednesday. "We'll pray for them. We have to forgive."

Investigators say vandals broke into the small Pentecostal church between Sunday and Tuesday. They ransacked the sanctuary, overturned the pulpit, destroyed figurines, musical equipment and carpet.

They also left hot water taps running, turned up the temperature on the boiler and broke the thermostat, squirted ketchup across walls and cabinets, discharged a fire extinguisher inside the building, tossed eggs at walls and doors, broke windows, ripped pictures from the walls, and spread road salt along the aisles of the sanctuary and between the pews. They also took keys to the church.

The damage, estimated at more than $40,000, was discovered Tuesday morning by the church's pastor.

The Rev. Max Burris and another church member had been trying to measure a window broken out by a previous act of vandalism when Burris noticed that other windows had been broken. He looked inside.

"I couldn't comprehend what I saw," Burris said Wednesday, standing amid the debris in the sanctuary. "That somebody would do this to a church. I can understand someone being mad at a person and wanting revenge, but to do this to a church."

Burris said this isn't the first time the church has been vandalized. In the past 20 years, there have been a number of incidents - windows broken and attempts to break in, but nothing to this extent.

The pastor said that despite the damage, a scheduled gospel event would go on as planned Saturday.

"We'll leave everything to the Lord," he said.

Clermont County Sheriff A.J. "Tim" Rodenberg Jr. said investigators believe teens or young adults did the damage. There is no evidence of a hate crime, he said.

"Most of the incidents that look like this have historically proven to be (crimes) of opportunity. Unfortunately lack of respect for the property of others, combined with boredom and not thinking about the consequences ... usually indicates that someone under 25 did this. It's rare that a vandalism to this degree is committed by older adults," Rodenberg said.

"This is, I think, the worst case I've experienced. They practically ... put the church out of business."

On Wednesday, investigators canvassed the neighborhood, looking for information that could lead to suspects. Anyone with knowledge of the incident is asked to call the Clermont County Sheriff's Department at 732-7545.


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