Arrest made in year-old church vandalism cases

Police in Brown and Bartholomew counties have made an arrest in the vandalism of four area churches more than a year ago.

The break in the case came last week during an investigation into vandalism at a synagogue in Carmel.

Renzo Signorino, 20, of Columbus, was arrested Thursday on a warrant in Bartholomew County for the Bartholomew and Brown county incidents, but not the Carmel case.

A 17-year-old girl also is connected to the rash of vandalism and charges against her are pending, authorities said.

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Three churches in Brown County and one in Bartholomew County were vandalized in 2017 between June 21 and July 7. At the Ohio Chapel Church in western Bartholomew County, vandals also tried to set the church on fire.

The investigation took a turn Monday when Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Detective Will Kinman received a call from an FBI agent.

The agent said he was helping with the arson and criminal mischief case that occurred at a Carmel synagogue July 28, and that two people had been arrested: a 17-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man. The detective said the girl had alluded to possibly doing a similar act in Hope in Bartholomew County.

Last summer, Way of Holiness Tabernacle on Hurdle Road in Brown County was broken into late in the evening of June 21. At that time, Brown County Detective Brian Shrader said he could not release what was stolen since deputies were still searching for suspects. Court paperwork filed Thursday stated that a projector, printer cartridges, a green Warwick bass guitar and a second Warwick guitar were stolen.

St. Agnes Catholic Church on McLary Road in Brown County reported burglary and vandalism on July 6. Shrader said vandals entered the St. Agnes church office only, not the actual church, to write on the walls. In the Aug. 23 affidavit, Shrader reported that a window was broken out and several candy bars were stolen. A checking deposit book was also taken, but some of the items were discovered on an air conditioning unit outside.

Crosses were hung upside-down on the wall “as if to signify something,” he reported. A glove was left behind at the office and its match was found next to the youth barn at the church. The water in the sink also had been left on and the toilet had been wedged to run continuously.

On July 7, deputies responded to the Pike’s Peak Church of Christ on Bellsville Pike in Brown County for a third report of burglary and vandalism. Grape juice had been poured through the church and items had been smashed off the walls. A bottle of water had been placed on the pulpit upside-down, so when someone moved it the water would spill out.

A phrase was written on a dry erase board in the church, but police wouldn’t say what it was at that time. In Thursday’s affidavit, it was revealed that the phrase was “God works in mysterious ways.”

That same phrase was found in a handwritten note at Ohio Chapel Church in western Bartholomew County on July 7. The suspects vandalized that church and tried to set it on fire.

Cell phone data also was collected as part of the investigation.

The confessions

On Aug. 16, the FBI and Carmel police announced they had arrested 20-year-old Nolan Brewer of Greencastle and a 17-year-old girl in connection with the defacement of the Carmel synagogue. Nazi flags and iron crosses were painted on the walls of a trash enclosure, and the girl was accused of setting a small fire at the synagogue as well, according to the Indianapolis Star.

During conversations with police after her arrest for the Carmel vandalism, the girl said she had lived in Brown and Bartholomew counties and had attended Brown County High School. She confessed to being a part of the church vandalism in Carmel, the police report said.

The FBI’s investigation turned up pieces of writing by the girl which included the phrase, “God works in mysterious ways.”

On Tuesday, Shrader and {span}Kinman {/span}went to speak with her at the Hamilton County Juvenile Correctional Facility.

She told the detectives she had nothing to do with the vandalism cases in their counties and that she did not have a car a year ago. She denied writing the phrase, but Shrader noted that her body language indicated she was “holding back.” When he told her it was OK to speak with the detectives, she started to tear up, the report said.

She told the police she did not do the vandalism, but Signorino did. She said he told her he broke into the churches to find propane tanks.

The girl had firsthand knowledge of the case that was not released to the public, including that crosses had been flipped upside-down and that a cross was placed upside down in a toilet at the Bartholomew County church, the police report said.

She also told police that Signorino had the stolen bass guitar at his home and she was able to describe it in great detail, including the brand and that it was a five-string bass.

On Wednesday, the detectives found Signorino at work at an Indianapolis Road business in Columbus. He denied having anything to do with the vandalism cases and said he saw the green bass guitar at the girl’s house.

When the detectives told him they had cell phone data, he told them he drove the girl to about four or five churches but he had no idea what she was doing, the police report said. He said he saw her come out with a guitar case, but he thought she bought it. He did admit to having the bass guitar at his house, he said the girl had stashed it there and he forgot it was there.

After being told the detectives had DNA that showed a man and a woman were at the vandalized churches, Signorino said he went into three churches in Brown County and one in Bartholomew County to see what the girl was doing, but that he only touched a few things and put them back, the report said.

{span}Kinman {/span}had Signorino write the phrase “God works in mysterious ways” on his notebook. When Signorino was told that the handwriting was almost identical to what was written in the churches, he confessed to writing it.

He said he assumed the juvenile had sold the rest of the stolen property. He admitted to finding a tiki torch at the Ohio Chapel Church and said the girl was “dead set” on setting a fire.

When asked why he targeted four churches, he said it was to “blow off steam.”

The detectives followed Signorino to his house where he showed them the stolen bass guitar, the report said.

On Thursday, Signorino was charged with the following in Brown County:

Burglary, a Level 5 felony (Way of Holiness Tabernacle Church)

Theft, a Level 6 felony (Way of Holiness Tabernacle Church)

Institutional criminal mischief, a Class A misdemeanor (Way of Holiness Tabernacle Church)

Burglary, a Level 5 felony (St. Agnes Catholic Church)

Institutional criminal mischief, a Class A misdemeanor (St. Agnes Catholic Church)

Institutional criminal mischief, a Class A misdemeanor (Pikes Peak Church)

He was booked in the Brown County Jail Thursday and was being held on $5,000 bond.

Signorino was formally charged on Friday with the following in Bartholomew Circuit Court, all related to the Ohio Chapel Church vandalism:

Arson, a Level 4 felony

Burglary, a Level 5 felony

Institutional criminal mischief, a Level 5 felony

Kinman said a warrant will be issued from Bartholomew County for Signorino to be arrested on those charges. The detective said that more than $70,000 in damage was done to the rural Bartholomew County church during the vandalism.