Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2 teens arrested in break-ins at 7 South Nashville churches

By Nicole Young • THE TENNESSEAN • June 23, 2009 Church leaders and congregation members say they forgive the two men accused of burglarizing seven South Nashville churches, but they will not forget. Metro police arrested Tevin Taylor and Akoon Tong, both 18, after responding to a security alarm at Lighthouse Baptist Church, 5115 Blue Hole Road, at about 1:30 a.m. Monday. It is believed the two men are responsible for eight burglaries over the past couple of months. Police spokesman Don Aaron said about $35 was taken from Lighthouse along with a cell phone and some other items. During questioning, Aaron said, both men admitted to the burglary and implicated themselves in others. Faye Sanders of Murfreesboro works as an administrative assistant at Lighthouse and has been a church member since 1981. "We pray for the people who did this, but we expect justice," Sanders said. "This incident makes us aware of how vital safety is to everyone here." As part of an effort to increase safety at the church, Sanders said officials are purchasing and installing secure doors, enhancing the church's security system and making sure everyone is out of the building by 9 p.m. each day. Lighthouse hit twice Monday's burglary isn't the first at Lighthouse. Taylor was arrested for burglarizing the building and taking more than $1,200 cash on April 24. He pleaded guilty to burglary last Tuesday in Criminal Court and received a two-year probation. The new charges would be a probation violation. Police believe that Tong and Taylor began breaking into churches in late April. Haywood Hills Baptist Church, 255 Haywood Lane, was discovered ransacked on April 23. Church officials say the burglars broke a solid glass door to gain access to the building and kicked in three doors in the church offices. They took about $5. "This gave us a greater urgency to form a committee for security and for surveillance equipment," said Haywood Hills Pastor Barry Ellis. "Our church wants to maintain a secure environment that is open to the community, but not create a fortress." If face to face with the suspects, Ellis said he would forgive them. "But, I would tell them they've taken from churches who were trying to help people in need so they've taken from the neediest," he added. On June 17, two more South Nashville churches were burglarized, Christ Lutheran Church, 299 Haywood Lane, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 364 Haywood Lane. Pastor saddenedPastor Marie Hatcher had arrived at Christ Lutheran just one week before the break-in. To gain entry, the suspects threw two bricks through Hatcher's office window. The building was ransacked and a laptop computer taken. "We don't keep money in the church," Hatcher said. "So all they got was some change from the coke machine." Since 2008, Hatcher, a transition minister assisting congregations when pastors resign or retire, has served at eight churches and has never had a break-in, she said. "We are disappointed and saddened that someone would break into a sacred space," Hatcher said. "You have to forgive people who have the mindset to do something like this. There is something wrong with their thinking or their being. I think they could benefit from some counseling." Three more church burglaries were reported in the days after the Christ Lutheran break-in. Hillcrest United Methodist Church, 5112 Raywood Lane, was ransacked on June 18 followed by St. Basil's Cathedral, 355 Tusculum Road, on June 19 and Universal Church, 4916 Nolensville Pike, on June 20. Aaron said a digital camera was taken from Hillcrest. "Primarily they were looking for cash," Aaron said of the burglars. "Some places were ransacked, and they didn't get anything." Additional charges against Taylor and Tong are likely, police said.

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