BRADENTON (FOX 13) - Five churches in Manatee County have been vandalized or burglarized since May 27 and sheriff's deputies hope to find the suspect or suspects before they strike again.
Pastors at local churches also hope suspects are identified quickly, before another congregation becomes the victim.
The mood was less than happy at Happy Gospel Church Tuesday, where the latest burglary took place. Happy Gospel Church Pastor Bill Bailey told FOX 13 News what he found Monday when he came in to the building for a quick errand.
"Each of our door jambs were broke open," he said. "When I walked on stage, my worst fears were realized."
Speakers, monitors, TVs, and even the church keyboard were missing. Whoever broke in did whatever it took to get what they wanted.
"They took the time to move that speaker and use it as a stool to access the other wall speaker," Pastor Bailey pointed out.
It appears the thieves used a side window to get into the church. They took the screen out and crawled right in.
"They cased it. They looked through almost every room, took the electronics, ransacked our offices," he said.
The church's total loss comes to nearly $20,000.
"Just the violation of God's house is the worst part. The money and the equipment, those things can be replaced," Bailey explained. "This has been a hard lesson we've learned this week."
Pastor Bailey is more concerned that the thieves could strike again. Manatee County sheriff's detectives said two more churches in the area were broken into. Thieves got away with similar items from one of the other churches.
"Sometimes our buildings, unfortunately, are sitting ducks. They are only used so many times during the week. Some churches don't have regular office staff, so some churches don't have people in them each day," Bailey explained.
Four other churches were targeted over the weekend.
Church on Rock Casa De Dios on 9th Street in Bradenton was broken into, but nothing was taken. Crosspoint Christian Church on Whitfield Avenue in South Manatee County was broken into and sound equipment was stolen.
Thieves also took sound equipment from Providence Presbyterian Church on 30th Street, and a TV was stolen from Braden River UMC on 44th Ave, both in Bradenton.
Anyone with information on the burglary is asked to call the MCSO at 941-737-2366 or Crime Stoppers at 866-634-TIPS.