Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Church vandalism suspect in custody



By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BATAVIA TOWNSHIP - An 18-year-old Batavia Township man accused of breaking into a church was jailed Monday in lieu of $40,000 cash bond.

Benjamin M. Runyan is accused of breaking into the Church of God on Straight Street in Batavia Townshipthis month and causing more than $40,000 in damage.

He has been charged with two felony counts: breaking and entering and vandalism.

Clermont County Sheriff A.J. "Tim" Rodenberg Jr. said investigators arrested Runyan on Saturday.

Runyan has no prior criminal record, officials said.

Investigators think someone broke into the small Pentecostal church March 9, 10 or 11.

The culprit ransacked the sanctuary, overturning the pulpit and destroying figurines, musical equipment and carpet.

The vandal also turned on hot water taps and left them 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 roadway salt along the aisles of the sanctuary and between the pews. Keys to the church were also taken.

Members of the church, as well as the church's pastor, Rev. Max Burris, have said they would be willing to forgive whoever did the damage.

However, Burris said he wanted the culprits prosecuted. "Accountability is necessary," he said.

"The Lord is in control despite everything the devil does. I can forgive whoever did this, but they should be prosecuted," he added.

The congregation of 30-40 members worked to clean up the damage.

Individuals and at least one organization have contributed money and time to help get the church back in shape.

Runyan is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Municipal Court next week. He could be sent before a grand jury soon, officials said.

If convicted as charged, he could face a maximum 21/2 years in prison.

E-mail mmccain@enquirer.com




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