Churches plagued by burglaries in northern Colorado

Jan. 3--Greeley police suspect the burglaries of five churches in Greeley may be connected to similar incidents in Loveland and Fort Collins, where 19 churches have been burglarized since August.

Working closely with the Loveland Police Department and Fort Collins Police Services, investigators from the Greeley Police Department also are working to determine whether the recent burglaries of northern Colorado churches are connected to any commercial burglaries in Greeley, according to Greeley police Lt. Steve Nelson.

The investigation stems from the recent burglaries of 24 churches throughout northern Colorado -- five in Greeley, 17 in Fort Collins and two in Loveland.

The burglary was "irritating" and an "invasion of privacy" for Paul Gilbert, director of administration for Greeley Wesleyan Church, 3600 W. 22nd St. in Greeley. The church sustained more than $6,000 in losses and damages when four laptop computers and briefcases were taken from the church, while several doors and windows were broken and damaged, possibly from a crowbar.

"It takes a lot of nerve," said Gilbert, in a telephone interview. "I mean, it's kind of like robbing from God. It's not a smart thing to do."

First Church of the Nazarene, 2515 W. 16th St. in Greeley; Trinity Episcopal Church, 3800 W. 20th St. in Greeley; Sunnyview Church of the Nazarene, 4100 W. 20th St. in Greeley; and a Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints building also were burglarized between October and December.

Rita Davis, spokeswoman for Fort Collins Police Services, said on Friday afternoon there is no evidence linking the two robberies in Loveland with the 17 in Fort Collins, though Nelson said Friday night that there seems to be a relation between the incidents in Greeley and those in Loveland and Fort Collins.

The investigation has yielded one arrested. On Wednesday, Greeley and Loveland police arrested Timothy Mattox, 33, of Greeley on suspicion of second degree-burglary, possession of burglary tools, and theft by receiving and complicity. Police said Mattox used gift cards taken from a church in Loveland at grocery stores and also is a suspect in the burglary of a second Loveland church.

All agencies are investigating whether there were more people involved in the burglaries.

The incident has been "frustrating" since donations to Greeley Wesleyan Church are down because of the economy, according to Senior Pastor Stephen Wilson. With this being the third burglary at the church in six years, Wilson said he is now looking into a security system at the church, which will cost even more money.

What Wilson finds most disappointing, though, is that he was not warned in advance of the rash of burglaries at churches in northern Colorado. In the end, he said, the burglaries seem to be an occurrence the church must learn to live with.

"Churches by nature tend to be somewhat trusting and don't usually think in terms of protecting their assets and guarding against theft," said Wilson in a telephone interview. "That's not a mindset that's typical for churches, and I think the people who are doing this know that and they see the churches as an easy target. They're just taking advantage of that."

"We just have to learn to start thinking that way," Wilson said. "We just have to realize we're not immune from that kind of a thing anymore."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.