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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fed-up Church Members Stand Guard, Apprehend Burgler

Taken from

West Palm Beach, Florida
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

(Palm Beach Post)

For two months, they spent their nights as volunteer security guards in their burglary-plagued house of God.

The vigilance paid off early Friday, March 24 when a suspected burglar broke through a window and encountered a half-dozen church members wielding baseball bats and broom handles. When police arrived, at about 1 a.m., they found the man battered and bound with rope on the roof outside a second-story window of the Church of the Nazarene in northern West Palm Beach, Florida.

"We think it was the same burglar who broke in two months ago. He used the same window," said Aristeo Paxtor, 31, who was the first to confront the suspect.

The action began around 12:50 a.m. when the makeshift guards, waiting in the dark, heard the pattering of footsteps on the roof. They then heard a window break, and one dialed 911.

Paxtor was the first to make contact, swinging a bat at the suspect as he opened a door, striking him across the chest and sending him reeling backward.

By then, volunteer guard Esteban Mendoza had made his way to the roof and was waiting for the suspect to scramble out the same window he entered. When he was halfway out the window, Mendoza hit him in the back with a bat, according to police reports.

Using rope purchased just for this occasion, the volunteers tied him up and waited for police to arrive.

"We were simply defending ourselves and our church," said Juan Delfin, 26, one of the volunteers. "The police can't be everywhere."

Police arrested Ralph Thomas, 47, and charged him with burglary and possession of burglary tools. Thomas has been arrested 27 times since 1981, including six times on burglary charges, according to state records.

He was taken to a nearby hospital for cuts on his legs, broken fingers and broken ribs, West Palm Beach police spokesman Ted White said.

The church members are not under investigation for their actions, White said.

"They were trying to protect themselves," White said. "At the very least, they were trying to protect the property."

Church pastor Galo Poveda said his congregation of mostly Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants was frustrated about the three burglaries they have endured in the year since he purchased the building.

"The neighborhood is not the greatest," he said. "To survive, you have to protect yourself."

Despite the biblical admonition to turn the other cheek, Poveda used the Bible to justify the use of violence to capture the suspect.

"The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy," Poveda said, quoting from the book of John.

Some of the volunteer guards suggested that righteous indignation sometimes calls for forceful action.

"When someone comes in and steals in the house of God, we have to protect those things," Paxtor said.

The volunteer guards, six at a time, stood watch from 10 p.m. to daylight, sleeping in shifts on sofas — three upstairs, three downstairs — while some remained awake. Each stayed awake for two-hour intervals.

Delfin said the church would have installed alarms or video cameras, but the building has no electricity.

Poveda said the city demanded so many improvements when he took over the building a year ago that he hasn't been able to get the permits to open.

Services at the church, called the Iglesia del Nazareno Belen, are held during daylight hours on Sundays. Poveda said he needs to hold services or face losing his 200-strong congregation.

Burglars stole about $1,200 in cash after the church moved into the building, he said. Two months ago, about $7,000 worth of property was taken, including audio equipment.

The team guarding the building the night of March 23 included five Guatemalan immigrants and one immigrant from Mexico. The guards said the suspect had an accomplice waiting in a truck, but the truck pulled away when it was apparent the building was occupied.

Delfin said the suspect was carrying a flashlight and a hammer, but insisted after his capture that he wasn't trying to steal anything, Delfin said.

"He said he didn't have any money for rent and that he comes to the church to sleep," Delfin said. "We knew that wasn't true."
--Palm Beach Post


  • Good for them. You know what would be cool? We have thieves every Sunday in our church - at least according to Malachi 3. So what if we got after them with bats and broom handles. Woo-Hoo. Sounds like fun!

    By Blogger RevTabasco, At 2:19 PM  

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