Gunman takes thousands from church in Baltimore

Robber holds a pistol to woman's head as priest hunts combination to safe

October 14, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

With a robber holding a pistol to a church secretary's head, a Northeast Baltimore priest was forced to open a rectory safe yesterday and hand over thousands of dollars from Sunday collection baskets, the pastor said.

"This is the first time anything close to this has ever happened here," said the Rev. Michael J. Orchik of the Shrine of the Little Flower Roman Catholic Church, in the 2800 block of Brendan Ave. "It was rather brazen, but could have been worse."

No one was hurt in the robbery, which began about 8:45 a.m. when a man knocked on the rectory door and asked for information about Little Flower's school and how to donate clothes, Orchik and police said.

When the secretary returned with a brochure describing a clothing drive, the man pulled a gun, police said.

Orchik said he rushed to the front hallway when he heard the secretary scream. The robber, described as a heavy-set black male, wearing a black sweat shirt, black pants and glasses, pointed the gun at the secretary, Orchik and a cleaning lady, and demanded money.

The robber took about $400 in cash from a safe, then demanded the money collected at Sunday services, Orchik said.

The man prodded them downstairs to another safe in the basement, Orchik said.

The robber slapped the priest on the head when he had trouble remembering the combination and fumbled with the lock.

While Orchik hunted for a piece of paper with the combination on it, the robber grew more impatient and pointed the gun at the secretary.

"You find that thing in five seconds or she is going to get it," Orchik said the robber told him.

"He led us to believe he was going to shoot," Orchik said.

The priest eventually found the combination and opened the safe. Orchik said he gave the robber cash and checks totaling about $7,100 raised from donations and Sunday's collections.

The man put the loot in a green church duffel bag, then ordered them to stay downstairs while he fled, Orchik said.

The priest said he was too busy during the holdup to be nervous.

"The adrenaline was pumping," said Orchik, who has been a priest for 30 years and served at Little Flower for 11. "I was intent on getting something accomplished."

The crime outraged neighbors, parishioners and parents of children attending Shrine of the Little Flower Elementary School, next to the church.

"That's bad," said Fred Carrigan, 46, who lives across from the church. "It's getting bad everywhere, I guess. It's ridiculous."

Desiree Paul, who was picking up her son from the elementary school, said she was shocked by the robbery.

"It's a scary thing," said Paul, 35. "I feel awful. That's so low."

Avalon Brown, 32, was parking her car outside her rowhouse when she learned of the robbery from a reporter.

The robber "has no respect for the Lord, I guess," she said. "Nothing is sacred anymore."

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