Teens arrested for vandalism at church

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By John Barnhart

Two county teens have been charged with vandalizing St. John the Baptist Church in New London.

The vandalism occurred in the predawn hours of July 17 and was discovered by one of the church's deacons a few hours later. The vandals had taken some partially empty cans of paint from a storage shed behind the church and painted "666" and an upside down cross on the back of the church.

They broke every window in the church, including five stained glass windows, each between 80- and 90 years old. They threw bricks through most of the windows, and hurled a bucket of red paint through one of them. This spilled paint on the church's piano and over the carpet in the sanctuary. The two teens, both 17-year-old white males, have been charged with malicious property damage.

"I don't know if they know this is a black church," commented Sheriff Mike Brown at a press conference on Thursday.

"We got a tip that came in yesterday evening," said Investigator Mike Mayhew, who handled the investigation.

Mayhew said that the caller knew details about the crime that had not been reported in news stories. The caller also named the teens.

Mayhew said that the teens told him they were out walking around and they were bored. They discovered the unlocked shed behind the church, went in and discovered the cans of paint. He doesn't think that it was a racially motivated crime.

"I think that it's just what it is, kids being stupid," Mayhew commented.

The church, which has insurance, is still waiting for an insurance estimate to be completed. Eugene Payne, the deacon who first discovered the vandalism, said that each stained glass window was valued at $1,000. Then, there will be the cost of replacing a door, replacing all the other smashed windows, pressure washing the exterior of the church and the walk, and replacing the carpet.

"This is the first time we have been vandalized," said Payne.

Some work was done quickly. Church members got the windows covered with plexiglass to seal the interior of the church from the outside. They've also cleaned off the painted graffiti.

The congregation, which holds services twice a month, dates back 121 years, according to Payne, who has been a member for 60 years. This is the church where he grew up worshipping.

"It was like somebody did it to your own home," he said, describing the impact it had on him. "It's a hurting thing."

Payne personally cleaned the red paint from the piano.

"We had just put a lot of work in that piano," he said.

Payne said that it was fortunate that the last person to play the piano, the night before at the conclusion of a week-long revival service, had closed the keyboard cover. This kept the paint off the keys.

Clarence Brown, another deacon, said that he had prayed a lot for the people who would did such a senseless thing to a house of worship. He said that he hopes they will get the help they need to get straightened out.

"It was a feeling of disbelief that any person or persons would do such a thing against a church," Brown said, describing his feelings when he first saw the damage.

"We just came together in prayer, trusting God that whoever did it would get the kind of help they need," he said, concerning the congregation's reaction.

Brown said that catching the alleged vandals sends a message that acting against a house of worship won't be tolerated by the community.

He said that the church is talking with Lynchburg Stained Glass about replacing the stained glass windows. As the windows are replaced, they plan to put plexiglass over them to prevent a reoccurrence.

Brown, who grew up in Bedford County, returned home after a 31-year career in New Jersey. Every year, he puts up a major Christmas light display at his home on U. S. 460. It grows every year and he's gotten to the point where he has between 35,000 and 40,000 lights. He and his wife start working on it in October and turn on the lights after Thanksgiving. He said between 70 and 80 cars come through his circular driveway every night, during the Christmas season.