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Fresno church says COVID-19 pandemic has opened the door to more burglaries

News

Leaders at Grace United Methodist Church say they've been broken into over 20 times in recent months

FRESNO, California (KGPE) — A Fresno church is frustrated after not only being broken into Thursday, but the culprit also starting a fire inside. It’s the latest of a long string of break-ins the church has had since the COVID-19 pandemic forced its closure.

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Security has been top of mind for many places of worship in the city, since many have had skeleton crews in buildings. Sometimes, not even on a daily basis.

For Stephen Whaite, a trustee at Grace United Methodist Church, the whole situation is getting frustrating. He said for the last three-to-four months there’s been a man who has repeatedly broken into the church.

It was easier to deal with before COVID-19 hit.

“He’d break in and we’d find where he broke in,” Whaite said. “We’d put up bars, or we’d screw the windows shut. Something like that.”

But, since the church has been closed — it’s gotten out of hand. The Fresno Fire Department responded to a fire at the church Thursday around 9 a.m. By the time they arrived, the fire was mostly extinguished, but the damage left several big holes in the floor on the upper level.

The suspect was already gone by the time first responders arrived.

Battalion chief William Veiga said investigators determined the suspect broke in through a window on the side of the building. Whaite said the night before, the man he believes did this broke in the same way.

“Now that there’s no one here, he’s just here every day and every night,” he said.

Others have also broken in, according to Whaite, helping bring the break-in tally at the church to over 20 in the last few months. The Fresno Police Department has also been looped in to investigate.

Many places of worship, like Bethany Church in northeast Fresno, have been concerned of break-ins like what’s happening at Grace United Methodist. Lead pastor Brian Wiebe said thankfully people living nearby have walked their dogs, or had picnics on the grass surrounding the church.

It’s helped provide more eyes, Wiebe said.

“The grounds have been maintained, that’s helped. Then we have a custodian that helps carry the place. We’ve kept just enough activity to make sure it looked lived in without feeling like it’s abandoned,” he said.

Veiga said it’s going to take thousands to repair the damage caused in this incident. If you know anything about this, you can call Fresno Police.

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