Criminals ransack & burglarize 4 churches, grocery store along Highway 24

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LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – Four churches and a grocery store along Highway 24 are picking up the pieces from an early this morning crime spree.

The worst damage was at the last target, Faith Tabernacle Church.

“Looks like they’ve even spooned some chili out of there,” said Pastor Anthony Simmons of Faith Tabernacle Church, looking into the refrigerator in the fellowship hall of his church.  “Well, they took them something to go it looks like.”

He’s talking about the evidence left behind by burglars who broke into the church through a back door and ransacked the church.

They hit the fellowship hall hard, stealing pots, pans, canned food, the microwave, and even a 25-pound bag of sugar.  This church was likely the last stop after three other churches and Shelton’s grocery store on Highway 24.

“They were going east and we were going east,” said Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Mitchell.

Mitchell believes his deputies weren’t too far behind the criminals, after the first report of a burglary came in around midnight.

But, the burglars still made off with the church’s computer equipment, linens, towels and other things.

As much stuff as the burglars took, it was kind of surprising what they did not take.  They made it into the sanctuary, where there’s all kinds of audio equipment.  But a jug full of cash sitting in the open was untouched.  It was the children’s collection and they left it.

“The natural instinctive part of me wants to go after these guys,” said Pastor Simmons.

He said he suppressed his anger and concentrated on scripture, grateful no one was injured and the church had insurance.   And he paused for a moment.

“I said a prayer for those who actually violated this place and that was hard,” said Simmons.  “But as Christians we have to apply the principles in all areas of our life.”

Investigators do have images of the suspects from two security camera systems.

As for Faith Tabernacle Church, the members insist they won’t be deterred.  Instead, they will gather Sunday afternoon to celebrate a baptism of one of their members.