By Jessica Brodie
LAKE CITY—A church vandalism that could have incited much wrath is turning into an opportunity for mercy in the Florence District.
In the wee hours of Thursday, Aug. 28, a group of people broke into Lake City United Methodist Church, vandalized the fellowship hall and administration building, then went on a burglary and vandalism spree at other sites around town, including the Baptist church and other small businesses.
At first, Lake City pastor the Rev. Bill McCown said he and the congregation were upset about the damage, which felt like a personal attack.
“It was all just to make a mess, just to destroy things,” McCown said, shaking his head as he points to broken windows and plates, smashed coffee pots and the fine layer of fire extinguisher dust coating everything in the fellowship hall.
It wasn’t a robbery but rather the work of angry, bored people wanting to break stuff, McCown said, noting they destroyed a computer and took his Cherry Coke from the office refrigerator, but didn’t take anything of value. They raced through the building, wreaking havoc in McCown’s young daughter’s Sunday school classroom, throwing pool balls at the walls, breaking youth trophies and more.
But police had images of the suspects, both from bank and local business security cameras, and they were able to home in on three teens, who were ultimately identified.
“They sent the images to area schools, and no one recognized them, so they sent them out on the police wire and discovered one who was underage in Georgetown, and he confessed,” McCown said, adding that they got lucky in identifying suspects so quickly.
But when it came time for the arraignment, McCown was asked to speak on behalf of the church. He discovered it was a first offense for two of the teens, and their moms were there with them, sobbing over and over, “We are so sorry.”
McCown urged the court not to try the young men as adults. He decided mercy was a better course for them.
And now he’s praying they will find the path to redemption—sooner rather than later.
“I don’t think those kids even understand what they did,” McCown said.
One of the boys has sent an apology letter, and McCown said he’d love to see some sort of arrangement worked out where the teens can do community service or raise funds to pay back some of the damage they caused. But McCown and the church aren’t looking for harsh penalties—they just want the kids to understand they did something very wrong, and to turn their lives around before it’s too late.
McCown said insurance will cover all the damage, and costs are estimated in the high $40,000 range. Most of the damage came from the fire extinguisher dust, which is caustic.
“It gets in and destroys pianos and electrical things,” he explained.
In the end, he said, they were blessed. The sanctuary wasn’t harmed, and they never missed worship, even though they are eagerly awaiting the use of their fellowship hall again after repairs are complete.