Ross County Church Leaders Fighting Back After More Than 30 Break-Ins
Houses of worship have been targeted by thieves in Chillicothe.
The number of congregations they have struck is growing by the day, according to investigators.
In just a matter of weeks, at least 15 reported break-ins have occurred in the city of Chillicothe.
And outside of city limits, 18 more churches have been targeted in Ross County.
Now, church leaders are fighting back
Church leaders on the city's east side are taking to the streets -- organizing prayer walks and passing out flyers.
They will not stand by and watch drugs take over their community, they said, and they are taking their message straight to the source.
"There was a time when churches left their doors unlocked for people to come and pray, but now, you can't do that. We have security," said Pastor Mark Clendaniel of the Church of Christ in Christian Union.
The church is equipped with a network of more than 12 cameras, covering nearly every angle. So far, it has protected this congregation from becoming another victim.
Pastor Clendaniel said he's watched nearly every other church on the city's east side get struck by thieves.
"We've seen a lot of breakdown of the community with drugs and alcohol," he said.
Now, the suspects are getting bolder -- in who they target and how.
At least 33 suspected church break-ins have occurred in Chillicothe and Ross County in the past 10 weeks.
The First Church of the Nazarene was broken into Wednesday night, at least the sixth time thieves have struck there.
"We invite anybody to come and to hear and to participate and to see," said Pastor Jason Everidge. "And I think that just allows people to try to take advantage of us even quicker."
Pastor Everidge said during one burglary, someone broke into his office and stole cash.
In another, thieves targeted a cash register -- a prop in the church's Christmas play.
Now, Chillicothe Police are increasing patrols to specifically check churches on the city's east side.
And they believe the season may help bring them closer to the suspects.
They say recent snowfall may help investigators find the thieves, because of the footprints they're leaving behind.
Until then, these pastors are leaving their own mark.
"We are praying for our city," said Pastor Clendaniel. "We want our city back."
The prayer walks take place monthly, and the pastors invite other congregations and community members to join.