Reward offered in string of church burglaries

A reward is being offered for information about a string of church burglaries and vandalism in Blair and Huntingdon counties.

A suspect or suspects in the break-ins have not been identified.

State police at Hollidaysburg said the incidents occurred during the overnight hours this week and primarily targeted churches, forcing entry by opening doors or breaking windows. The following churches were involved:

– Sinking Valley Presbyterian Church in Tyrone.

– Williamsburg Independent Baptist Church in Williamsburg.

– St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Martinsburg.

– Hope United Methodist Church in Alexandria.

– Grace Point Community Church in Williamsburg.

– Spruce Creek Methodist Church in Spruce Creek.

– Faith Assembly of God in Roaring Spring.

State police reported the suspect damaged $2,000 worth of Sinking Valley Presbyterian Church’s property. The investigation is ongoing. State police also reported a suspect pried the front door of Williamsburg Independent Baptist Church and stole Christmas cards and a lock box containing close to $100.

“People ask ‘Why would they steal Christmas cards?” said Pastor Joseph Weber of Williamsburg Independent. “Obviously they thought there was money in them.”

Lori Tremmel, an administrative assistant at St. Matthew Lutheran, said she was the first to arrive on scene after the burglary. Tremmel arrived the morning of Dec. 19 about 6:45 a.m. and noted that her office door was open. She hadn’t yet flicked on the lights and could see a glow through the doorway leading into her office. When she entered the dark office, she heard a “crunch crunch” beneath her feet and realized the door window was broken. Tremmel noticed that both Pastor Ed Harshbarger’s office door and the basement door were broken as well. Tremmel and other church staff learned the intruder entered through the basement door and had stolen a set of keys, a portable door alarm and a cash box containing about $15.

“We see a lot of robberies this time of year,” said Harshbarger. “This is a time of year when crazy things happen,” adding that there is a lot of tension in people’s lives.

State Police State Trooper Jeffrey Petucci reported the burglar stole gift cards and a check from the Hope United Methodist. The amount stolen is unknown.

Pastor Dennis Pruitt of Grace Point Community Church said, “Every door locked, they broke into,” commenting on the extensive damage to the doors and custom locks. No money was taken, but the church staff has yet to inventory everything.

The suspect failed to break into Spruce Creek Methodist, according to Gary Kurtz, the church’s head of trustees. Pastor Del Smith of the Faith Assembly of God said the suspect managed to break into his church through a window but set off the alarm and then bolted. Nothing was taken from either of these locations.

The Sinking Valley Golf Course restaurant in Frankstown Township was also hit in the recent spate of burglaries, according to a police report.

Blair County Crime Solvers is offering a cash reward of up to $2,000 to anyone who has information that leads to an arrest in these cases and can be contacted at 695-7555.

Anyone who witnesses suspicious activity near churches or businesses outside of hours of operation are asked to notify law enforcement.

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.