Suspect arrested in church robbery

Ex-convict, 38, accused of stealing thousands, slapping Catholic priest

October 20, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Police arrested a 38-year-old man, whom they described as a career criminal, in the armed robbery last week at a Northeast Baltimore church in which a priest was slapped and thousands of dollars were stolen, officials said yesterday.

Barry K. Brooks of the 1900 block of E. 31st St. was taken into custody about 6 p.m. Saturday at his home and was charged with armed robbery, assault and handgun violations, police said. They added that a bail review hearing will probably be held today in District Court.

The priest, the Rev. Michael J. Orchik, 63, said the arrest answered his prayers.

"The police have been so good about supporting us, I was praying not only for our sake, but for their sake that they would find him. I know how much they wanted to succeed," said Orchik of the Shrine of the Little Flower Roman Catholic Church on Brendan Avenue.

"When a priest is robbed, obviously we have to crank it up a notch," Maj. Antonio Williams said during a news conference yesterday.

Police said the robbery occurred in the church's rectory after morning Mass on Oct. 13 when a man pretending to inquire about clothing donations pulled a handgun on a secretary and an elderly cleaning woman.

Orchik, a priest for 30 years and a former Army officer, heard the commotion and confronted the man, who directed him to open two safes and hand over their contents: $7,500 in petty cash, rent money that nuns pay the parish and Sunday services collections.

"In the military, you learn to deal with adversity and make adjustments in critical situations," said Orchik, who said his training in the 1960s helped him keep his cool even as he was lightly backhanded by the robber because he was taking too long to open the safe.

Williams described Brooks as "a violent individual" who had been imprisoned for bank robbery, released and then sent back to prison for violating the condition of his release. He was most recently released from prison in August, Williams said.

Court records show that since 1985 he has been charged with weapons possession and robbery at least three times, as well as with felony assault.

"It was very important we get Mr. Brooks off the street as soon as possible," Williams said.

Church parishioners said after 11 a.m. Mass yesterday that they were relieved by the arrest but disheartened that the crime occurred in the first place.

"To rob the church, it's disgusting," said Linda Metz, who was married there and attended its school as a girl. "It shows how far down we've sunk."

The Rev. James Miles - who was upstairs during the robbery, unaware what was going on a few floors below - said the crime reflected the decline of a neighborhood that just 30 years ago contained prime real estate.

"This is the horror that people here live through," Miles said. "The sadness of their lives is just extraordinary."

Orchik said he doesn't feel unsafe in the Northeast Baltimore area.

But he has stepped up precautionary measures at the church since the robbery, instructing staff to look through peepholes before opening doors.

He said he does not hold any animosity toward the robber.

"It's very sad that someone has to choose that way of life," Orchik said.

Police said a small amount of the stolen money has been recovered. Orchik said insurance should cover the church's losses.

Brooks could be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison if convicted on the charges, Williams said.

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