By: Noelani Mathews | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 8, 2017
Stolen safe recovered from Alapaha River.
LOWNDES CO., Ga. (WCTV) -- Four arrests have been made in connection to a string of church burglaries in South Georgia.
Starting in July, Swilly Hill Church of God, St. Mark Baptist Church, Corinth Baptist Church, and Lake Park Church of God reported being broken into with multiple items stolen.
With the help of multiple agencies, Lake Park Police Department says Kristie Walker, Virginia Mixon, Matthew Burke and Ethan Shackelford have been arrested for the burglaries.
"It's pretty bad when you go as low as breaking into a church," said Lake Park Police Chief James Breletic, a lead investigator in the case.
"Several kids from different churches could not go to camp. That's pretty disgusting," says David Kinsey, a Lake Park police officer.
After money and equipment was stolen from two churches in Lake Park, the department began putting in countless hours to link possible suspects.
Officer Kinsey says police put three months and 280 hours into the investigation before narrowing down five suspects. Four of them are Shackleford, Burke, Mixon, and Walker.
Chief Breletic says the four have admitted to working together on different occasions to break into several churches. The investigation shows the stolen items were used to by meth.
They also led Lake Park divers to a stolen safe they dumped into the Alapaha River, after stealing cash, checks and documents inside. The dive team plans to recover a second stolen safe over the weekend.
"We're just glad we could bring an end to the case itself, so that way anyone going to church can feel a little bit safer now," says Chief Breletic.
It's an end to the case in Lake Park, at least.
The four culprits are also being linked to multiple church burglaries in Madison and Hamilton Counties in north Florida.
Lake Park PD believes they could be responsible for 15 to 30 church burglaries between both states.
They say separate investigations are still ongoing in each county, all which could take anywhere from weeks to months.