With the holiday season in full swing, parties are taking place across the area. But a local church found out recently that not all guests have the best intentions.
A bold burglary was caught on camera stealing from a Bible study group during their holiday celebration. Now, members of the church are fighting back and hoping surveillance footage helps put him behind bars.
It happened on Nov. 19 around 6:30 p.m. at Evangel Church on Vaughn Road in Montgomery.
The Bible study group was having their Thanksgiving feast when a young man walked in and asked to use someone's phone so he could call his friend for a ride.
"After he made his phone call, we asked him if he wanted a meal and he said, 'Yeah sure,' so we gave him a Thanksgiving meal," said Thomas B. Taylor, the group's leader. "We were eating our meal and the young guy was eating his meal. We carried on and the youth pastor thought this young guy was with us and we thought he was with the youth pastor."
As the unsuspecting group enjoyed their meal, their guest snuck into another room, went through coat pockets and found Taylor's car keys. He made his way to the parking lot and found Taylor's pistol inside his car. Security cameras were rolling as the suspect tossed the gun under a bush and made his way back into the celebration.
"He puts the key back in my pocket, comes back to where we are sitting, says thanks for the meal, leaves, picks the pistol up as he leaves and you see him walking off into the night," Taylor said. "To think that someone would just do that when you're doing them a favor. I just don't believe it to be honest. Everyone was flabbergasted. I'm more worried about the weapon being on the street."
Taylor realized later that night when he was at home and unloading his car that his pistol was missing. He went back through the surveillance footage and saw what happened.
The church's youth minister, a former cop, called the number back on his cell phone that the suspect had dialed for his ride and told the man who answered they were so happy to have his friend for their feast and asked him if he could provide his friend's name so that they could invite him back for services. They've turned the name and security footage over to the Montgomery Police Department. Detectives are now investigating the incident as a vehicle burglary.
Authorities say there are a number of cost effective ways for local groups to protect themselves from becoming the victim of a similar crime.
"As Christians, we like to give and criminals will take advantage of that. They know that during the Christmas holidays that people are more giving," said Tony A. Garrett with Central Alabama Crimestoppers. "Some tips to prevent this include using your ushers and your greeters at the door to greet people at the time they come in. You can go ahead and have them fill out some type of visitor card. You can use that to find out who has been in your church. If something does occur, you can easily go back to that and at least get some type of evidence that that person was there."
Garrett added: "We may feel the need to put our purse or our coats down anywhere because it's a church and nothing happens at a church but certain people will look for that. Try to have a secured location where you can have a coat room, someone to monitor that area."
He also recommends having procedures in place for giving out donations or paying utility bills.
"Do not give cash to first time visitors. Consider counseling and assisting the visitor with resources to find employment. If they expect immediate help and cannot wait, it's more than likely a con," Garrett said.
He suggests local groups and businesses make sure their security cameras are working and that there's someone familiar with the software so copies can be made for police if necessary. Also, contact your local law enforcement to find out who patrols the area during services and to advise them of special events, especially those scheduled in the evening.
The Montgomery Police Department offers security assessments for businesses and churches to look over your facility for any potential problems. The Community Policing Bureau can be reached at 240-4800. The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office has a church watch. They can be reached at 832-4980.
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