Community aids Lowndes Co. churches damaged by copper thieves
LOWNDES CO., AL (WSFA) - A group of thieves suspected of working together to burglarize Lowndes County churches is behind bars.
The crimes sparked community outrage and a push to help the churches that were targeted.
On Tuesday, the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office revealed that a fifth arrest was made in connection to multiple cases of copper thefts at historic churches.
Wilbert Wright turned himself into authorities- the last member of the theft ring to be taken into custody.
Wright, Adam Spann, Nicholas Moore, Josie McCall and Kendrick Mason, the alleged ring leader, are all facing burglary and theft charges. They are being held in the Lowndes County Jail.
Investigators say they worked in different crews and stopped at nothing to steal copper from in and around the churches.
"It seems they never worked all five at the same time. They would be in groups of not less than two and not more than three when they would go to these churches," said Lt. G. L. Hutson with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office.
When Reverend Fletcher Fountain learned that fellow Lowndes County churches had fallen prey to copper thieves in recent weeks, he, like many, had a hard time wrapping his mind around their devastating crime spree.
"What a time we're living in! What's wrong with people who want to vandalize the house of God? I wondered what we could do," he said.
His church, Lily Baptist Church of Letohatchee, stepped in and set up a relief fund to help the six historic churches that were targeted in the Braggs and Farmersville communities.
"I really hope that the community will join in and let's get these congregations back in operable conditions as soon as possible," Fountain added.
Lowndes County investigators say the group left behind $40-50,000 in damages at the churches and got only $200 dollars for the scrap metal.
A break in the case came when the sheriff's office received information about one specific vehicle spotted in the areas where the churches were burglarized.
"We were able to find out who the owner of that vehicle was and find out who he's dealing with. That led us to the current arrests that we have," Lt. Hutson said.
Investigators continue retracing the suspects' steps. At a Selma scrap yard Tuesday, a trash can full of stolen copper taken from two of the churches was found. Adam Spann had a receipt for $44.20, officials said. The sheriff's office is working with the Attorney General's Office to make sure the proper procedures were followed at the scrap metal locations.
Lt. Hutson says Mason led the criminal ring and has been involved in burglaries and thefts on that end of the county for years. Several years ago, he was convicted in Wilcox County for burglarizing a store in the Furman community.
Dallas County investigators are working to see if the group is connected to another church burglary near the Lowndes County/Dallas County line during the same time frame as the Lowndes County church break-ins.
The crew is also facing charges in a burglary at a home in the Mount Willing community belonging to Reverend Dale Braxton, pastor of Snow Hill Christian Church. Hutson says they went after the copper in the pastor's home and that Braxton used to mentor several of the suspects.
Spann and Mason are also accused of breaking into a disabled car on the side of the road on Highway 21. According to investigators, as the owner went to get help with his car troubles, they smashed the back windows and stole speakers and several other items from the car.
Meanwhile, the churches that were damaged in the copper thefts are getting started on repairs. Members said they're looking at all options to improve security where they worship. One church is also installing non-copper piping in an effort to deter any future criminal activity.
"We're doing everything we can to keep this from happening again," said George Styles with Farmersville United Methodist Church. The 140-year-old building was left with $14,000 in damage.
Rev. Fountain says the crimes were unnecessary and that if the suspects needed help, they could have asked the churches. Even if the congregations couldn't help, he feels that they could have been connected with other churches who were in a position to provide assistance.
"I'm hoping that this will let the thieves know that the churches out here at together and if they need help, come to the church. Don't break in. Don't steal. Just come and ask for help," Fountain added.
Donations to the relief fund to help the damaged churches can be made at BancorpSouth Bank, which has several locations in Lowndes County.
"That's great for me to see, for the community to support the victims of these crimes. For the community to step forward and set up a fund to help offset the costs, I think it's great," Lt. Hutson said.
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