Church thieves strike 4 times

One theft includes $900 collected for a children's home.

Published December 12, 2006

TAMPA - The congregation at Plant City's Harmony Baptist Church collected about $900, hoping to make the holidays brighter for kids at a Tampa children's home.

Friday night, a thief stole the donations, the church's safe, a digital camera, a computer and a couple of guitars.

"It's discouraging," said Pastor Vance Catlin, a retired Hillsborough sheriff's deputy. "It's disappointing that someone - at this time of year - would come in and take funds from a church."

Harmony Baptist, at 6008 Knights Griffin Road, is one of four churches in rural eastern Hillsborough County burglarized in recent days, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The first one was Thursday evening at the East Thonotosassa Baptist Church at 12735 Knights Griffin Road. Thieves pried open a door at Harmony Baptist the next day.

On Saturday, the United Methodist Church at 4815 Sam Allen Road reported a burglary. The First Thonotosassa Missionary Baptist Church at 10650 McIntosh Road reported a burglary Sunday.

Deputies think the burglaries are related. In each case, a door or window was pried open to gain entry, said sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter. Once inside, the burglars stole cash, instruments, computers and sound system equipment.

No one had been arrested by Monday evening, Carter said.

Catlin said his church is fortunate the burglars didn't steal more. But he was angry with them, saying their selfishness took money meant to help kids at the Hope Children's Home in Tampa, a center for abused and orphaned children.

"You don't want to print what I'm thinking," Catlin said. "It's just someone that thinks more highly of themselves than they do of others."

Jim Brady, pastor of East Thonotosassa Baptist, said burglars stole a heavy safe from the church Thursday evening. They got less than $300, but Brady was most upset at the audacity of the intruders.

"It's just the idea that someone would really violate the sanctity of a church," he said.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 813 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.