Law agencies asking for help from public
During the past several weeks, 13 churches have been burglarized in LaSalle, Catahoula, and Avoyelles parishes, prompting investigators to form a multi-agency task force to put an end to what some call the highest form of theft.
“It’s just sickening,” LaSalle Parish Sheriff Scott Franklin said. “These are places of reverence and worship that are being burglarized and we are committed to not only finding the culprits, but insuring they see the inside of a jail cell.”
Investigators from all three parish sheriff’s departments echoed those comments, vowing to stop the crime spree that has been going on for some six weeks.
Detectives from LaSalle, Catahoula, and Avoyelles parishes met together Monday, July 25, to review case files and compare notes.
“We held a meeting where we went over all of our case files involving the church burglaries, discussed motives, possible theories, and went over evidence collected,” Catahoula Parish Chief Detective Bubba Roy said. “We believe that working together, we will solve this case.”
Roy said the agencies are in constant contact with one another and any new leads in the cases are shared as they work to build cases to make arrests.
The first church burglary occurred in Catahoula Parish, when members of Parhams Baptist Church reported to the sheriff’s office June 25 their church had been broken into.
The following weekend, Avoyelles Parish had two of its churches burglarized, occurring sometime after worship services July 3 and the morning of July 4.
Those two churches were Eola Baptist Church and New Pilgrim Baptist Church, both located near Bunkie.
After ten days of no reported burglaries, the rest of July would prove to be much different, with ten church burglaries occurring in 12 days in all three parishes.
The total list of church burglaries by parish includes churches of various denominations and racial makeup:
July 17: Olla Apostolic Pentecostal Church.
July 18-19: Jena First Baptist Church.
July 24-27: Shady Grove Pentecostal Church.
July 26: Sanctuary Family Worship Center in Jena.
June 25: Parhams Baptist Church.
July 18: Wallace Ridge Pentecostal Church.
July 18: Rosefield Baptist Church.
July 20: New Ouachita Baptist Church.
July 3-4: Eola Baptist Church.
July 3-4: New Pilgrim Baptist Church.
July 15: Christian Family Worship Center in Mansura.
July 17-18: Richey Baptist Church near Deville.
July 17-18: Centerpoint Pentecostal Church near Deville.
In the majority of the break-ins, the culprits appeared to be looking for cash, going through desk drawers, leaving doors and cabinets open, and basically searching any area where they thought cash money would be kept at the church.
Several of the churches that reported a break-in noted that nothing was taken at all, which is perplexing to investigators as most churches have sound systems, video systems, and many other items of value that could be sold for money.
But some churches did report stolen items with probably the largest amount stolen from the parsonage of New Ouachita Baptist Church near Enterprise in Catahoula Parish.
According to Pastor James King, the parsonage received around $200 in damage from breaking in and once inside, the thieves stole a television set and several guns.
Also according to other published reports, at least two of the churches that were victims of this crime spree had video surveillance systems and/or alarm systems. Some reports note that the cameras actually have pictures of the thieves, although no official report has been released and no law enforcement agency is releasing any photos for public distribution.
Captain Dan Schaub of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office noted that all agencies are working many leads in the multi-parish investigation.
“Although we can’t discuss a lot of details about these cases right now I can assure everyone that we are taking this very seriously and our criminal investigations unit is working tirelessly on multiple leads, as are the other agencies in LaSalle and Catahoula,” the captain said.
“We are in constant contact,” Smith said. “As every new lead is discovered we are sharing that with each other and the dots are getting connected.”
Smith noted that along with investigators with Catahoula and Avoyelles, the police departments of Jena and Olla are also part of the multi-parish investigated task force.
“It takes all of us working together, including the public, to solve this crime spree,” he said.
All of the law enforcement agencies are asking for the public’s help finding those responsible for the church burglaries.
“If anyone knows anything about these burglaries we encourage them to call one of the departments,” Roy said. “If someone saw a vehicle, suspicious activity, or heard of something they think is related to these burglaries, please call one of us and let us know.”
All three lead investigators said many do not realize that the burglary of a church building is a felony, where, if convicted, the offender could face up to 12 years in prison with hard labor and at least two years of that sentence must be served without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.
“In other words, the law takes burglarizing a church very seriously, as it should,” Sheriff Franklin said. “Along with a fine of up to $2,000, if they are convicted, they will serve at least two years in prison…period.”
In LaSalle, Crimestoppers is also offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the church burglaries.
For those with any information on the church burglaries in any of the three parishes, please contact the following:
In LaSalle, Detective Richard Smith or Detective Leland Guin at (318) 992-2151.
In Catahoula, Chief Detective Bubba Roy at (318) 744-5411.
In Avoyelles, Detective Mike Simmons at (318) 253-4000.
Catahoula Parish Sheriff Toney Edwards noted that his deputies are doing everything they can to patrol churches in his parish and LaSalle Sheriff Franklin said his are doing the same.
“But the fact is we have so many churches in our parishes that we can’t be everywhere,” Edwards said. “That’s why we need the publics help to keep an eye on our communities and to report any suspicious activity as soon as they see it.”
He also noted that while the eyes of law enforcement are limited, there is one set of eyes that no one can escape.
“Although we don’t know who the thieves are at this time, there is surely one who does know, and they cannot hide from him,” the Catahoula sheriff said.