Vandals strike second rural church in county

Rural Triumphant Baptist has broken window, exterior flood lights

Another rural church in Bartholomew County has been hit by vandals, who left after breaking a window and setting off a loud alarm system.

The Triumphant Baptist Church on Southern Crossing, south of Columbus, on Monday reported broken exterior flood lights and a shattered large window, Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputies said.

Deputies were sent to the Baptist church at 5331 E. County Road 400S at 11:04 p.m. after the church’s alarm system notified police automatically about intruders, pastor Richard Vogsberger said.

Although sheriff’s deputies arrived within minutes, the vandals had already left, he said.

One large double-paned window was broken, but the interior of the church was not damaged, Vogsberger said. That was likely due to the alarm system that first responders said was so loud and piercing that they were asking the pastor to turn it off as they did their investigation, he said.

The church is one of as many as five churches in Bartholomew and Brown counties that have reported break-ins, vandalism, broken windows or, in one case, attempted arson since late June.

Sheriff Matt Myers said it appears the Triumphant Baptist vandalism could be related to vandalism at Ohio Chapel United Methodist Church reported Friday night.

In that incident, vandals broke nearly all the Ohio Chapel church’s windows and then attempted to burn the church down by setting fire to a Bible, a hymnal and other items. A fire set in the basement burned itself out before causing more damage, investigators said.

A $5,000 reward has been posted in that incident for information leading to the arrest of the individuals who vandalized the Ohio Chapel church.

Meanwhile, detectives are looking into links to damage at three Brown County churches, Way of Holiness Tabernacle in Morgantown, St. Agnes Catholic Church near Nashville and Pikes Peak Church of Christ in Van Buren Township.

“We think they might be all a related,” Brown County Sheriff Scott Southerland said. “We’re still trying to verify that.”

The first vandalism incident in Brown County occurred at Way of Holiness Tabernacle on Hurdle Road late in the evening of June 21.

St. Agnes Catholic Church on McLary Road reported a burglary and vandalism on July 6. The crime is believed to have occurred the evening of July 5 or early in the morning July 6, according to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.

On July 7, deputies responded to the Pike’s Peak Church of Christ on Bellsville Pike for a third report of burglary and vandalism. Officers believe the crime occurred between 2 p.m. July 6 and 10 a.m. July 7.

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department does not have any suspects at this time, Southerland said.

Vogsberger said the incident at Triumphant Baptist in Bartholomew County is the fourth time that someone has broken windows at the church. The church has been meeting for 20 years and has been at its current location for the past 16 years.

“Churches need to be spending money on security,” Vogsberger said, noting that his church has alarms for both fire and break-ins, which have worked every time there has been an issue.

He’s now thinking of suggesting adding security cameras to the church’s system.

“This seems to be a chronic condition for churches around here,” Vogsberger said of the incidents. “I’ve never lived anywhere where so many churches are vandalized. It seems to me if we are able to get a picture of them, we could stop it.”

Myers said there was simply no justification for what was happening to the rural churches and that deputies are providing extra patrols for the facilities in Bartholomew County.

However, Myers also suggested that the church parishoners have an emergency plan to watch over their properties after hours and take five minutes during a Sunday service to review that emergency plan.

“If anyone sees anything unusual, call us,” he said.

Myers also advocated that churches install video cameras throughout the building, as a safety precaution and to provide law enforcement with the chance to identify vandals.

The Brown County Democrat, a sister publication of The Republic, contributed to this report.

Have a tip

Anyone with information about vandalism and arson at Bartholomew County churches is asked to contact Detective Will Kinman at 812-565-5926 or call the sheriff’s tip line at 812-379-1712.

The State Fire Marshal’s office and the International Association of Arson Investigators Indiana Chapter 14 is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the individuals responsible for the fire at Ohio Chapel United Methodist Church. To provide information, call 800-382-4628. Information may be provided anonymously. For more information, visit iniaai.org.

In Brown County, anyone who has information is asked to contact the Brown County Sheriff’s Department dispatch at 812-988-6655. To remain anonymous, call the tip line at 812-988-6620.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.