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Corvallis church burglary prompts beefed up patrols

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CORVALLIS, Mont. - The Ravalli County Sheriff's Office is investigating a burglary and acts of criminal mischief inside a Corvallis church.

Investigators said the break-in at the Corvallis United Methodist Church occurred late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

The break-in has prompted the sheriff's office to beef up patrols at other churches in the valley.

At the Methodist church, items were stolen, Bibles desecrated and the walls scrawled with graffiti.

On Tuesday morning church members had finished cleaning up. They began the process after investigators gathered evidence and pictures of the vandalism.

Terry Strom was washing his brushes after painting over strange messages that were left inside the church. He pointed to a window sill he had just painted.

"Here it said demon mistress," he said, "and there was a star with a circle with 666 on the wall."

The church community room was littered. Church boxes had been knocked to the floor.

Church trustee chairman Ray Dunbar showed NBC Montana the walls, doors and a closet that had been vandalized with what many here call disturbing graffiti.

The numbers 666 were prominent as well as "stop judging." The number 666 is a term in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament associated with the Beast of Revelation.

"I would say that I felt violated that someone would come in and do this in the dead of night," said Dunbar.

Dunbar said the altar Bible was defaced, and a pew Bible and hymnal were torn from their jackets.

He said pages from the pew Bible and hymnal had ben scattered down the aisle leading to the altar and all along one side of the altar.

Upstairs he showed us where church members found glass that had been shattered from the door leading from the fire escape.

Members had already repaired that door window. But Dunbar said somebody had bashed it in with a rock.

He also showed us the window leading to the community room. He said the screen on that window had been pulled up.

"After the anger subsided," said Dunbar, "I thought how really sad this is that someone expresses their view in this manner."

On Tuesday afternoon the church's pastor issued a statement. Rev. Debbi Wacker said:

"Our church is angered by this act of violence and want to see whoever did this caught. They realize the pain in a person's life that would lead them to this kind of action. However, we are also a community who is strong and grounded in faith. On Sunday morning they (the church congregation) moved from prayers for healing to cleaning up. Corvallis UMC has a rich history of hospitality and mission in this valley and around the world through our United Methodist UMCOR connections and will continue to focus on Jesus Christ who worships, serves and loves all God's people. I thank you from all of us for the support we feel from this community."

The church is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of whomever is responsible.

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