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July 27, 2010

Rash of church burglaries continues

CULLMAN — Even before his wife called him Monday morning, Cathedral of Praise pastor Dwayne Harbison knew something was wrong.

“My wife was about to go to Huntsville, and in the driveway in a ditch there was a wheelbarrow that had been locked inside our gym the night before,” he said. “We were wondering why that was there, and I saw her turn toward the backside of the church and I had a gut feeling of what happened. She asked if  I left the side door opened — I did not — and it was standing wide open.”

Harbison’s West Point church became the latest target in a recent rash of church burglaries, which started nearly two weeks ago with break-ins at New Freedom Baptist Church and Temple Baptist Church. Authorities believe the burglaries are all connected, and also included some recent break-ins in Morgan County.

Thieves used some type of cutting equipment to carve a hole in the metal exterior of the building, and kicked through the drywall and insulation to gain access to the facility.

The method of entry matches the other recent break-ins, Cullman County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Brett Holmes said, and could be the reason these churches have been targeted.

“That is consistent with the prior burglaries, because there are various tools you can use to cut metal, once you get a hole started there,” he said.

Once inside Cathedral of Praise, vandals busted through an interior wall and some ceiling tiles to gain access to a locked room with a safe, which was stolen.

“They just went through ransacking the place,” Harbison said. “Every door was open and the sheetrock in our new nursery was kicked in.”

The church safe, filled with a small amount of cash earmarked to buy school supplies for a back-to-school event this weekend, was stolen from the locked room.

While cleaning up the damage late Monday morning, Harbison said he is keeping a positive attitude, and still plans to go ahead with the back-to-school event Saturday afternoon.

“Right now, we’re living in desperate times, and desperate people are doing desperate things,” he said. “It’s like I told my kids, I know a God who helps the desperate, and the hopeless, and there’s hope in the name of Jesus ... They did do some damage to the church, but we aren’t going to let it slow us down.”

In addition to the Cathedral of Praise break-in, the nearby Target Pest Control office was also broken-into in a similar manner, though not very much was reportedly stolen.

“We’re following up on some different leads, networking with Morgan County, and pooling our resources,” Holmes said.

‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 225.

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