Arrests in two church thefts

11 houses of worship burglarized since Feb. in Baltimore County

April 28, 2007|By Nick Shields | Nick Shields,sun reporter

When Philip Hall unlocked the doors one recent morning at Calvary Baptist Church and its affiliated school, he found a violin in the hallway.

Hall, a deacon at the Dundalk church and principal of the school, knew then that something was not right. He walked upstairs and found shattered glass in the hallway.

Calvary Baptist had become another target in a recent rash of burglaries at Baltimore County churches.

Yesterday, county police said three men have been arrested and charged in two of those burglaries, including the break-in this month at Calvary Baptist.

Thirteen burglaries of churches in the southeast area of Baltimore County have been reported since February, said police, who are examining evidence to see whether the suspects arrested in two of the burglaries are connected to any of the others.

Police said the burglaries have been carried out in similar ways. In almost every instance, someone gained entry into the churches by breaking a rear or side window, said Bill Toohey, a Baltimore County police spokesman.

In most cases, not much was stolen -- petty cash, hand-held electronic devices, computers and Communion wine -- though court papers show a 1.8-karat diamond ring valued at $5,000 was taken from Dundalk Assembly of God Church.

Church leaders in the area said they're stunned that anyone would target places of worship.

"You feel like you're violated," Hall said. "You think to yourself, `My goodness, there's no fear of God anymore.'"

The Rev. Mark Hotopp, said he discovered items were missing last month from Living Water Lutheran Church in the Rosedale area after he spotted a broken side window and a trail of footprints on his church's blue carpet.

He reported his iPod, cordless phone and laptop, which had about six months' worth of pictures of his 1-year-old child, stolen.

`Praying for enemies'

"My wife and I lost a ton of pictures of our son, pretty irreplaceable kind of stuff," Hotopp said. "At the same time, we've been praying for them too, praying for our enemies that they find some help, and really, that's what they're kind of missing."

Other churches burglarized in recent weeks, according to county police, are: Sharp Street United Methodist, Peninsula Baptist Church, Ebenezer Methodist Church, St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Orems United Methodist Church, Rosedale Community Evangelical Church, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and Faith Lutheran Church. Holy Trinity Episcopal and Peninsula Baptist were burglarized twice, police said.

Baltimore County investigators have been working with Harford County sheriff's deputies who have also received several reports of burglaries in March, according to both agencies.

Investigators have not ruled out a connection between the burglaries in Harford and Baltimore Counties, Toohey said.

Brotherhood Mutual, an insurer of churches and related ministries in about 32 states, including Maryland, handles about 15,000 claims a year, said Scott Figgins, vice president of claims.

About half of those claims are property claims, he said, and 25 percent of the property claims are theft-related -- totaling nearly $2.5 million.

Excluding cash, Figgins said the most common items stolen was computer and musical equipment.

"It's high in frequency," he said of church theft. "But low in severity."

Tips for churches

Police give the same recommendations to churches as they do to businesses to prevent burglaries.

"Never leave cash or portable electronics such as laptops and iPods out after hours," Toohey said. "Items such as those should be locked up and out of sight. It would not hurt to put them inside a locked file cabinet, inside a locked closet. That is not a guarantee they won't be taken, but it is a deterrent."

According to police, Kristian Michael Dena, 28, and John Daniel McCurley, 33, both of the 7300 block of Edsworth Road in Dundalk, and David Paul Dodd, 31, of the 900 block of Garden Drive, have each been charged with two counts of second-degree burglary, felony theft and malicious destruction of property valued over $500.

During an interview, Dena admitted to burglarizing Calvary Baptist Church, Dundalk Assembly of God and a home, police said. He also said that he had some of the stolen property, according to charging documents.

In a written statement, he apologized for the burglaries, court papers show.

County police are following leads that might result in additional arrests, said Cpl. Michael Hill, another county police spokesman.

Calvary Baptist Church has plans to install new security measures, including cameras and alarm system, items purchased before the burglary.

But Hall said it's difficult for active churches to safeguard themselves from theft and burglaries without isolating themselves from the community.

"You have to rely on the Lord," Hall said.

nicholas.shields@baltsun.com

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