Multiple agencies work new leads in Lowndes Co. church burglaries

By: Noelani Mathews | WCTV Eyewitness News
October 22, 2017

LOWNDES CO., Ga. (WCTV) -- After several months of following a string of church burglaries in Lowndes County, local investigators say they feel confident they're closer to solving the case.

Authorities say multiple agencies are working together on several new leads.

One victim of the six church burglaries is St. Marks Baptist Church off U.S. Highway 84.

Singing filled the church, masking the loss it faced this past July when it was broken into. The church says they've already forgiven the unknown culprit, but that it would feel good knowing no other churches would suffer.

"No thief and no one can stop true worship", says Pastor John Manning. "We are just so glad we were able to overcome it without any problem. It was just an obstacle."

Pastor Manning says they've replaced the stolen items, and heightened security.

The church says the thieves were unexpected, but the offer for the culprits to visit their Sunday service still stands.


By: Noelani Mathews | WCTV Eyewitness News
July 31, 2017

LOWNDES CO., Ga. (WCTV) -- Lowndes County authorities continue to investigate a string of burglaries at local churches after a sixth church is hit in two weeks.

In the past two weeks, the following churches have reported burglaries with similar items stolen:

  • Swilly Hill Church of God on Hickory Grove Road
  • St. Mark Baptist Church in Naylor
  • Korean First Presbyterian Church on Bemiss Road
  • Corinth Baptist Church on Corinth Baptist Church Road
  • Unity Primitive Baptist Church in Lake Park
  • Lake Park Church of God on West Marion Avenue

    The most recent report came from Lake Park Church of God on July 26. The Lake Park Police Department says the thief stole a plastic jug of money and a safe.

    “It’s bad enough breaking into a person’s home or business, but a church is a sanctuary,” says Chief James Breletic. “That’s where people go for their own interpersonal time. We need the public’s help and it’s time they (the suspect) stand up and come forward.”

    A local pawn shop owner in Valdosta is keeping an eye out.

    Tony Franks owns Southland Pawn & Jewelry, and is a worship leader at Corinth Baptist Church.

    The church says the thief stole money raised by young kids for Vacation Bible School, along with multiple electronics and musical instruments.

    “It’s very sad. We all had personal stuff that left. My bass was something very important to me. As an older guy, it was lightweight, so it didn’t weigh a lot and played really good. It’s just sadness that somebody would do that,” says Franks.

    Franks said on Monday that a Good Samaritan saw what happened to the church and dropped off a free bass guitar to replace the stolen one.

    “He gave it to me. You tell me, is that an accident? No, it’s a miracle."

    Corinth Baptist Church says it's moving forward knowing that everything that was stolen can be replaced.

    Many churches are now ramping up safety efforts, such as security systems and more lighting.

    They hope the culprits are caught before another local church suffers.

    The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office says there are no new updates or leads at this time.


    By: Noelani Mathews | WCTV Eyewitness News
    July 25, 2017

    LOWNDES CO., Ga. (WCTV) -- For more than 30 years, John Manning has worked hard to run his own body shop, while being the pastor at St. Mark Baptist Church.

    "What they got didn't amount to anything," says Manning. "They've got to steal again tomorrow."

    Manning and his two sons continued to work Tuesday, just days after their church was broken into.

    "Most of the parishioners didn't even know about it, but that's just what thieves do," says Manning.

    He says the church was empty, which gave the culprit time to get away with different electronics.

    The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office says the break-ins didn't stop there. Within a matter of days, a total of five churches have reported burglaries with similar items stolen.

    "Some people have no morals, no ethics, and no conscience," says Sheriff Ashley Paulk.

    He says the other churches that have been targeted are Swilly Hill Church of God on Hickory Grove Road, Korean First Presbyterian Church on Bemiss Road, and Corinth Baptist Church on Corinth Baptist Church Road.

    The most recent report came in Monday from Unity Primitive Baptist Church in Lake Park.

    "It wasn't a great surprise because there's no honor among thieves," says Manning.

    The churches are said to be easy targets for the crime. Authorities are now warning all small and secluded churches in the area.

    "I just can't believe somebody would steal from the church," says Sheriff Paulk.

    However, the victims are sending their own messages to the unknown culprit.

    "I will invite them to church and I will pray for them and counsel them," says Manning.

    The sign at the Swilly Hill Church of God reads, "The thief comes to steal, but Jesus came to give life."

    The Sheriff's Office believes the suspect is familiar with Lowndes County. Authorities also think the suspect is targeting churches that are normally unoccupied to avoid any kind of resistance.



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