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Thieves targeting North GA churches

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WALKER COUNTY, GA (WRCB) - Houses of worship are the latest target among thieves in North Georgia. In just the last few weeks, churches in Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties have been vandalized as criminals destroy their heating and air units to cash in on copper.

Detectives in  the three counties aren't positive it's the same thieves, but say it sure seems like it. The M.O. is the same every time. They come to a church in the middle of the night, gut the HVAC units and take off with the copper wiring.

"Seemed like at one time it was off limits to even the most hardened criminal, that they wouldn't touch a house of worship, but it's just a sad thing," Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said.

Copper thieves hit three churches in Walker County this week, only leaving behind the shells of HVAC units and compressors.

"The amount they're getting as scrap is very minimal compared to the damage they're doing," Sheriff Wilson said.

Each church has multiple units. For Rising Fawn's Ascalon Baptist Church it's more than a $10,000 loss. Just a few minutes up Highway 157, Lookout Mountain Assembly of God faces a $12,000 loss. It's around $3,000 worth at Zion Assembly Church of God in Rossville. They're all big hits for these small, rural churches. But, they're not the only victims.

"They only cut the copper lines to the compressors and stole the coils," Dade County Sheriff Ray Cross said.

In Dade County, Berean Baptist Church fell victim to the same crime a couple weeks ago.

"We're going to be out looking and when we catch you, we are going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law," Sheriff Cross said.

Over in Catoosa County, detectives are looking for the person who pulled the same move at Mount Vernon Baptist Church. Investigators want local recyclers to report anyone cashing in copper. Georgia state law requires them to take the person's photo id and address, but so far, nothing.
 
"Most likely they're taking it out of our area because we haven't had any leads so far," Sheriff Wilson said.

Someone has since reported a suspicious vehicle at Ascalon Baptist Sunday night. It was a long wheel-based, older model black Ford truck.

Officers are increasing patrols around churches in those areas. They're asking folks who live near churches to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity. If you see something, call 911.

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