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UPDATE: Law enforcement officials are keeping a close eye on "The Waster"

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MCMINN COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Law enforcement officials are keeping a close eye on "The Waster" -- the man they say is responsible for sending chilling letters to more than 50 local churches across Tennessee and North Georgia.

The man told authorities that he's doing nothing more than expressing his religious beliefs, but his cryptic letters have put many congregations on edge.

Because the man has not been charged with a crime, Channel 3 is not naming him in our newscasts. However, we have learned that this isn't the first time one of his letters has been questioned by the police.

Dozens of churches across Tennessee and Georgia have received his hand-written note. The man bashes Christian beliefs, claiming those who taught the Ten Commandments damned all their members to hell.

But what mostly raised red flags was "The Waster" reference. The man quotes Bible verse Isaiah 54:16, which reads, in part, "I have created the waster to destroy."

"The way that times are now, people are getting scared and putting a lot of churches on edge," said McMinn Co. Det. Blake Witt.

After alerting the TBI and GBI, the McMinn County Sheriff's office was able to make contact with "The Waster" this week. He said his only motivation in sending these letters is to express his own religious beliefs. Law enforcement officials say they will continue monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, Channel 3 has learned that this isn't the first time police have been suspicious of one of The Waster's letters.

He was questioned after a Florida anthrax hoax in 2011, which prompted a HazMat evacuation of a courthouse. He addressed an envelope to a judge, claiming its contents contained a harmful "bio agent" that kept him from appearing in court that morning.

Court documents show the man believed a Florida jail was sending him toxic letters. He wrote, "When I opened it and read it, I immediately became violently ill, vomiting for 12 hours, with a fever of 105."

However, no substance was found inside the letter, and his case was dismissed.

Law enforcement officials are alerting churches that if they do receive any strange envelopes, not to open them and notify police.


 

UPDATE: The McMinn County Sheriff's Office has identified the self-proclaimed "Waster" who they say, sent strange letters to more than 50 churches in Tennessee and North Georgia. 

Channel 3 will not release the man's name because charges have not been filed.

The following is the release sent from Sheriff Joe Guy:

Due to a rash of letters being left at church buildings in several counties in Southeast TN and North GA, the McMinn and Monroe Co Sheriffs are releasing descriptive information to their local churches to be looking out for a “person of interest”.

According to McMinn Sheriff Joe Guy and Monroe Sheriff Tommy Jones, letters began to appear at  church buildings in their counties 14 days ago, and have since that time have been reported being left at church buildings from Blount County, TN south into Murray Co, GA.

“The letters are generally photo copies of the same letter, a rambling list of scriptures and comments and signed by the “Waster”,” said Sheriff Guy. “Most of the letters are being left overnight and found by church members prior to Wednesday night and Sunday morning services.”

“We have been in contact with area Sheriffs, as well as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in order to share as much information as possible.”

Both Sheriffs say church members are concerned due to the reference to  a scripture cited beside the name “Waster”, Isaiah 54:16: “Behold I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.”

“There are no specific threats in the letters, and anyone is entitled to free speech as well as their opinion, but this reference certainly makes people uncomfortable with past incidents of violence in churches,” said Sheriff Jones.

Sheriff Jones and Guy say they are very interested in speaking to a man, who is believed to be a resident of Monroe Co. The man is believed to have hand delivered a letter to a church in Monroe Co and a church in Blount Co, and matches the description of a man photographed leaving a letter at a church in McMinn Co.

Sheriff Jones said: "This is not a criminal investigation. We would just like to check with (his) intentions. And we want our churches to be aware of a general description and what we have so far."

The man photographed leaving a letter in McMinn Co, is described as a white male in his 60s, 6 ft. tall, grey hair, possibly with a grey beard, driving a small black car.

 “We want area churches to know that if a man matching this description approaches any church with a letter, or if you have any information, please notify your local law enforcement immediately. If you receive a strange envelope, do not open it,” says Sheriff Guy. “It is a safer to let law enforcement open the letter, as well as to preserve evidence.”


PREVIOUS STORY: More than 50 churches in McMinn County are trying to figure out who is sending strange, anonymous letters that bash their Christian religion.

Over the past couple of weeks, nearly six dozen churches (across denominations) in McMinn County, Monroe County, and Murray County, Ga. have received a letter from "The Waster."   

While the person hasn't made any specific threats, it has many congregations on high alert.

Several churches have spotted the man on surveillance camera. But the cryptic way in which he signs his name is making many church-goers uneasy.

"The guy is saying his name is The Waster," said Det. Blake Witt, McMinn Co. Sheriff's Office. "There's a biblical scripture and verse that talks about The Waster, and he states that in the letter."

"The Waster" signs his name with the Bible verse, Isaiah 54:16, which reads, in part, "I have created the waster to destroy."

Police have not yet tracked down who is behind the cryptic messages. Because he hasn't made any specific threats, detectives can't charge him with a crime right now.

However, they are taking precautionary measures, just in case. Fingerprints have been lifted from several letters. The Sheriff's Office will also work with local churches to come up with safety plans.

"If that be door greeters, kind of keeping an eye on who comes into the church, you know, it's sad that it's come to that, but it's better to be safe than sorry," Witt said.

Due to the broad reach of the letters, investigators believe more than one person could be delivering them. Anyone with information should contact their local police department or Sheriff's office.

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