Four Craig churches vandalized Tuesday night

Craig Police Department officials classify church vandalism spree as hate crime

— Theft and vandalism from four Craig churches Tuesday night will be classified as hate crimes, possibly making the penalties worse when the suspects are caught.

Wednesday morning, the Craig Police Department received a report of a burglary of the Faith Lutheran Church at Sixth and Green streets. After inspecting the site, officers checked other churches in the area and found that St. Mark's Episcopal Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Seventh Day Adventist Church had all been broken into.

Vandalism has been the main focus of the burglaries, but money has also been taken. Damage was done to the church interiors and objects within the churches.

"Those involved have shown a lack of conscience and total disregard for the significance of these churches and what they represent to their members and other citizens," Lt. John Forgay with the Craig Police Department said.

Burglars entered the churches by prying open the doors. In addition to cash, bottles of sacramental wine were also stolen. Officers found holes in the walls and church property torn up.

"This is just pure ignorance as far as I'm concerned," Forgay said.

The entire face of the crime changed when officers found that a fire had been started inside the Greek Orthodox Church and a bible burned.

"Enough's enough," Forgay said.

The fire is being considered arson and lifts the classification of the crimes from routine vandalism to a hate crime.

The four churches vandalized Tuesday night brought the total of church break-ins in the past three months to approximately 10, Forgay said.

"This appears to be a continuation of a spree of church burglaries which first occurred a couple of months ago," he said. "It appears to be the same manner of break in as before."

There were a rash of church break-ins reported in June.

Forgay would not disclose whether the department had any suspects, but did say they had some information they were working on. The department will also notify federal authorities for assistance with the investigations, Forgay said.

When caught, the criminals will face charges of theft, burglary, criminal mischief and arson.

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