Indian River churches, like Grace Lutheran Church, tightening security after series of break-ins

About $1,200 in nonreligious items stolen

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A rash of break-ins at religious buildings over the past three months is stealing congregations' tranquility.

And baffling law enforcement.

Meanwhile, the religious groups are locking down buildings with security devices.

"It feels like a fortress," said Patty Prange, spokeswoman for Grace Lutheran Church on 41st Avenue, which used to have an open-door policy.

Her church has been the scene of half of the 15 break-ins or attempted break-ins of seven different buildings since Dec. 21.

The last was March 10 at Grace Lutheran.

All the crimes, except one, have been within a mile of the intersection of 12th Street and 43rd Avenue, sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Thom Raulen said.

And there is no denominational pattern. Unity Center and Temple Beth Shalom also have been hit.

So far the crimes — which officials say appear to be mainly one person's work — have taken $1,200 in nonreligious items.

In response to the thefts, thousands of dollars have been spent on security measures.

The Lutheran Church alone spent $3,500 on anti-theft security devices: cameras, buzzers and alarms. "We have to buzz people in," she said. "It is quite an adjustment."

Unity Center isn't disclosing, for security reason, what it has installed to counter its $100 theft. Also it is countering with prayer, said Unity Center's Rev. Dan Holloway.

"We are praying that this person finds healthier ways of taking care of what challenges they have," Holloway said.

The Sheriff's Office isn't disclosing what was taken, Raulen said none of the materials were religious items. "They were looking for cash or valuables" for selling, he said.

Not all of the 15 instances were successful. At some locations, there was crowbar evidence of an attempted break-in.

At Prange's church, the only physical damage was a kicked-in door. What the thief got away with was some cash and a padlock and what Prange said was the church's sense of security.


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