Investigation into church burglaries continues

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2003

Austin Police Chief Paul M. Philipp does not believe an incident late Tuesday night at Bethlehem Free Methodist Church is linked to recent church burglaries.

In the latest incident, neighbors reported seeing six to eight people, climbing atop the roof of Bethlehem Free Methodist Church at 1500 Fourth Ave. SE late Tuesday evening. One resident reported seeing two individuals inside the church's front entrance windows.

For the last two weekends, churches in Austin have been the target of vandals and thieves. One of them, Grace Lutheran Church, is located only blocks away from the Bethlehem Free Methodist Church and was burglarized on two consecutive Sunday nights.

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When officers arrived at the Fourth Avenue SE church Tuesday night, they stopped a total of six individuals, all older teenage males between the ages 15-17. Four were detained for questioning, according to the officers' report.

Two of the individuals were cited with minor consumption violations and released in custody of their parents.

According to the police report, all of the juveniles said they were camping in the backyard of a friend and carried flash lights when they went into the nearby woods.

Two of them were dressed in black Ninja-style garb and one carried a sheathed knife, according to a witness.

Police confirmed the youths' story about camping at a nearby residence and released the other two youths detained for questioning.

The officers inspected the church thoroughly and found that entrance had not been gained.

"We believe this incident is not connected to the other church burglaries," Philipp said.

Although no arrests have been made in the church burglaries, the police chief said detectives are pursuing leads.

He also urged all churches to be vigilant about securing their buildings.

In addition, he repeated the invitation to residents living near churches to report any suspicious activities near the buildings.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at