A Fort Worth church community is reeling after being targeted three separate times in one week by vandals and thieves who have decapitated a statue of Jesus and stolen several memorial markers.
“It’s very disturbing that something like this would happen,” said Steve Murray, senior warden of Christ the King & All Saint on Lackland Road in the west side of the city.
Monday night, someone came to the church – a relocated and refurbished building originally built at the turn of the 20th Century in the now-defunct community of Buckner – and tore electrical conduit wire off of the back of the building, overturned playground equipment, started a small fire in the parking lot and badly damaged or destroyed several concrete statues located in the church memorial garden.
Among the statues damaged was a six-foot-tall statue of Jesus. Vandals used a rock to knock off the head and one hand from the statue. The head was then stolen from the site, according to church members.
In addition, the person responsible also stole a concrete statue of an angel which was a dedicated memorial to a former church member, Lana Athey, who was murdered in 2001.
“I can’t imagine anything lower than stealing and tearing up things at a church,” Murray said.
Following Monday’s crime, church member Devan Breedlove stationed a video camera to capture any and all activity in the church memorial garden, in the off chance the vandals would return.
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Breedlove could not help but feel satisfied when he checked the video the next morning.
“I have to be honest. The first thing I felt was kind of excitement. I actually caught someone,” Breedlove said.
His camera recorded two men, both on bicycles, ride up directly into the memorial garden. Then, while one appears to circle the property in an attempt to play "lookout," the other is seen stealing several brass plaques that serve as memorial markers in the garden.
The cremated remains of 24 church members are interred in a stone columbarium in the garden. The markers list the names of those members, as well as their years of birth and death.
Of the 24 name plaques, only nine remained as of Thursday.
For many of the church members, the theft is far more than a crime.
“It is very personal, because this is where Pete Peterson was,” said Steve Murray, as he knelt and pointed to the blank space where a plaque was once placed. “Pete was my brother-in-law and was probably the closest thing to a saint that lived on the earth.”
“It’s not just taking something,” Breedlove added. “It’s violating someone’s memory of a loved one.”
To make matters worse, at least one thief is seen on camera returning to the garden for a third straight day – Wednesday – to steal more of the memorial markers.
The brass plaques cost approximately $190, but as scrap they will fetch around $1 a piece, according to Murray.
Fort Worth police detectives have been given copies of the surveillance video Breedlove shot and are investigating the series of crimes.