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Posted at 5:04 PM ET, 01/10/2011

Thieves steal thousands of pennies

By Dan Morse
Washington Post editors

For 10 months, the children of the New Creation Church in Montgomery County collected pennies and brought them to Sunday services. They dropped them into a 5-gallon bottle, the kind that fit upside down into water coolers.

After 30,000 pennies, brought in by adults as well, the bottle was full. So the pastor started storing more pennies in a bag. Her plan: Collect 100,000 coins in the "Penny Project," and donate the $1,000 to an organization that helps poor children.

Sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning, however, someone broke into the Wheaton-area church and stole an estimated 40,000 pennies, according to Montgomery County police.

What's more, the intruder or intruders appear to have gone into the church freezer, pulled out hamburger meat, and cooked themselves a meal. And they went onto a church computer, and looked at pornography - leaving the vulgar images on the screen that braced a deacon just before Sunday services.

"People just don't have the same respect for churches that they used to," said Ella Redfield, pastor of New Creation, a Baptist church of about 70 members.

The church has been broken into two other times recently.

Sometime between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2, a thief or thieves broke through a window and left with a small safe, according to Redfield and police. There was only about $100 inside, Redfield said. But the safe contained tax and financial documents. "I've been trying to put that all back together," Redfield said.

The intruder or intruders left evidence that they tried to get the pennies: The big water jug was on its side, and some of the coins had spilled out. "I'm sure it took more than one person to eventually steal the pennies," she said.

On Sunday morning, Redfield showed up for Sunday services and smelled cooked meat, and almost slipped on grease on the floor. "They had the audacity to cook," she said.

This time, the intruder or intruders got the coins, which by now were being stored in two places: The 30,000 in the jug under Redfield's desk, and at least 10,000 more in a bag in a computer room. Church officials checked the computer, and shut down the porn site.

Then things turned violent:

On Sunday evening, a preacher of a different congregation, whose members use the building for services, confronted a man in the basement. He tried to keep the man from leaving, police said. Instead the man, who had a key in his fist, punched the preacher, who said he did not need to be transported for medical attention.

Police described the suspect from most recent crime as a white male, 22 to 25 years old, about 5-feet-10, weighing between 180 to 200 pounds, with blond hair worn above the collar. He was wearing a black jacket with possible other colors, and blue jeans at the time of the assault of the pastor, police said.

When the church got to 100,000 pennies, officials were planning to show the collection to politicians before turning the money in. The coins would have represented all the kids in the region living in poverty, Redfield said.

"This was children working to draw attention to children living in poverty," she said.

Police ask anyone with information about the case to call 240-773-5530 or 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

By Dan Morse  | January 10, 2011; 5:04 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse, Montgomery  
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