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Thieves ransack church for copper

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – St. Louis police are on the lookout for thieves who ransacked a church in north St. Louis' Walnut Park neighborhood.  Judging by the evidence left behind, it seems the criminals made themselves at home.

Senior Pastor Lee Harden discovered the devastating vandalism right before his Sunday morning sermon at Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church.  He says, "I felt tempted to say something angry, but that wouldn't have done anything to help the people that were there."

He hopes his message of salvation will someday reach these thieves, who police say broke into the church's education building through a side door.  They tried to rip out pipes above the baptism pool, but weren't tall enough.

They left appalling damage to the bathrooms. Porcelain sinks were ripped out and shattered. Copper piping was gone.

Upstairs, they ransacked the classrooms, and another bathroom, which had been painstakingly remodeled by a retired plumber and church member.  "You see their work go down the drain, it really hurts to see that stuff," says Deacon Courtney Stevenson.

The thieves spent so long in the building, "They popped popcorn while they stole things," says the pastor, "and then we noticed they took juice and water to nourish themselves, but just looking at it really gives you a disheartening feeling."

They even created a makeshift work room upstairs to strip air conditioner units for copper.  They left behind what was left of the air conditioners, along with a hammer and more snacks.

Police say several hundred feet of copper were stolen in total, along with a karaoke machine, and three space heaters.

The building was used for youth ministry and as a safe haven for neighborhood kids. Now, it's closed, and declared a safety hazard.  Meanwhile, the church was in the midst of a renovation, to create space for more programs to help the community.

"You might get a couple dollars for copper, but it hurts a church, it hurts a community, it hurts our kids," says the deacon.

Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church would be grateful for any assistance.  If you'd like to donate some money, plumbing services or help with the clean-up, you can contact the church at oakgrovemb@gmail.com.​