Houses of worship, targeted by criminals.
Three west side churches have been broken into just this week. In one of those incidents, the burglars were caught on tape. The incidents have left the victims wondering, who would steal from a church, and whether these break-ins are connected.
The kitchen inside Westgate Baptist Church is where Toby Simons and her friends live their faith. "Because when you're hungry it hurts," said Simons. They minister to the hurting, and feed the hungry. "We take them out hot food every Saturday. It's all fresh, hot homemade cooking."
On Friday morning, Simons arrived to prepare the food they'll deliver to the homeless, and found the church ransacked: security wires cut, doors pried open, valuables gone.
Pastor Lester Reaper says along with electronics, the thieves took something more important: food for people who would otherwise go without. "It just hurts that people disrespect you that much,” said Reaper. “Taking bread out of kids mouths. It's a terrible thing what they've done."
But Westgate Baptist isn't alone.
"Evidently they don't have much of a soul," said Lisa Boggs, leader of the South Central Hilltop Blockwatch. End Time Apostolic on South Warren Avenue was also broken into this week. "The lowest of the low- to break into our church that is so good to everyone," she said.
She shared security camera footage of the thieves. "I knew that if we get this video out, we could apprehend these suspects. They shouldn't come to our neighborhood to do their business."
"There's enough similarities that I think someone's making the rounds,” said Deacon George Zimmerman of St. Agnes Church on West Mound Street. St. Agnes was broken into overnight Tuesday.
Zimmerman calls it a desecration that detracts from their mission. "We shouldn't be spending money to protect ourselves. What resources we have we should be using to help people."
But over at Westgate Baptist, Toby Simons says it'll take more than this to keep her from her calling. "Nothin’ ain’t gonna stop us,” Simons said. “That’s just part of the devil's work, trying to stop our ministry. But he might as well hang it up, because it's going to happen."
Columbus Police are investigating all three cases, but say it's too soon to say if they're related.
If you recognize the men the video, or have any information, you're asked to call police at 645-4545.