Central Florida churches see string of burglaries

Churches increase security after thefts

ORLANDO, Fla. – Stealing from a church may seem unimaginable, but that's exactly what's happening across Orlando.

Six weeks ago, First Baptist Church of Orlando made headlines after a thief stole an estimated $50,000 from its safe. No arrests have been made in that case and since then, there have been at least eight more church break-ins, including at Azalea Park Baptist Church.

"You can see where they took the fire extinguisher and kind of hammered at the deadbolt," said Azalea Park Pastor Rodney Witt, describing the damage to a lock.

Witt says it's the first time in his 15 years at Azalea Park that someone has broken in and ransacked the Baptist church.

"We're here to help people out, and I just think it's a sad thing that it did happen," said Witt.

It happened around Aug. 25 during a string of church break-ins. The thieves didn't find much, only a pry bar and hammer from a bucket of tools, which they then apparently used right next door.

"And they left the equipment here when they could not get into the safe," said Pastor Howard Harrison of New Beginnings Church.

Harrison and his wife, Shauna, say the pry bar and hammer were found after New Beginnings was hit for the second time in less than two weeks.

"There are hurting people everywhere, said Shauna Harrison. "It's just a reflection really of hurting people."

A reflection more and more churches are now seeing. Beracah Seventh Day Adventist Church is right across the street from an Orlando police office. It is now locked and gated after being hit twice by thieves, including this past weekend.

Just up the road, True Vision in Christ Church on Mercy Drive is also locked up, after a thief tried to break-in through the front door.

"With a church nowadays, in these economic times, you need to secure your church just as well as you secure your home," said Pastor Harrison.

Harrison and Witt both say the thieves did more harm by ransacking the churches than stealing tools and petty cash. They said they would have gladly given the crooks food or helped pay for accommodations had they just asked for help.

About the Author:

Lisa Bell has been in Central Florida since 2007, covering the big stories that impact our community. Lisa was promoted to News 6 evening news co-anchor in May 2014.