UPDATE: Edwin J. Renth II, 19, was charged with one count Burglary class 1 felony one count Criminal Damage to Property class 3 felony. Bail set at $100,000. Four juveniles were also arrested.
BELLEVILLE, IL. (KTVI) – Police are investigating an absolutely appalling case of vandalism at a Belleville church. Virtually every room of the New Freedom Baptist Church campus was ransacked covered with broken glass, racist and anti-religious graffiti.
The church pastor, Rev. Dr. William Meanes said he came upon the damage and the suspects about 2:15 Tuesday afternoon.
He said he was meeting with contractors about bringing the church buildings back up to code.
Police confirmed multiple arrests at the church at 2301 West Main Street, right across the street from Lindenwood University.
The trail of damage started outside; the pastor noticed a child’s bicycle, then a fire extinguisher and a cloud of dust from it on the wheel chair ramp leading into the rear entrance.
What he discovered inside drove him to tears: room after room covered in that fire extinguisher dust; broken glass everywhere; African artifacts – shattered; vulgar, racist graffiti – aimed at the African American congregation; saying things like, “F*#! Black people” – and “I love church, just kidding”.
The pastor didn’t see the worst of the damage until after police arrested the suspects the pastor caught hiding upstairs.
“One guy had a broom. I took it out of his hand,” Pastor Meanes said. “I said, ‘get on the floor, get on the floo’r. One guy came out from the side, I said, ‘you better get on the floor, too’. 3 more guys were in the back of the room, I said, ‘you all better come out here. I said, I ain’t lying, I ain’t lying, I own the property. I see what’s on TV about the “stand your ground”… I see 5 of you all. I feel threatened. You better get on the floor’. The guys got on the floor.”
In one room there were chairs and other objects, from a weed trimmer to an umbrella, stuck into the walls.
“All I could was start crying. The police officer said, ‘pastor you don’t want to come in here,’” Meanes said.
Much of the damage was tagged with graffiti saying, “SK8 (skate) Mafia”.
The pastor said the suspects had skateboards. He said there were 5 of them; the oldest was 18.
He understood it was still very early in the investigation but he hoped it the crime would be investigated as a hate crime.
He said the building was insured – but the damage seemed endless.
He called on volunteers to help clean up.
If you can help, contact the New Freedom Baptist Church at 618-741-3589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.