HOUSTON—Stained glass windows once hung on hooks just inside the clear window panes around the sanctuary of St. Thomas Presbyterian Church, but they’re gone now.
“They threw a rock through this window and through the stained glass,” said Rev. Nora Fitch, describing the damage to her sanctuary.
Then she steps aside and points to a burned spot on the carpet, where someone tossed a makeshift firebomb. Fashioned out of a bottle of lighter fluid, somehow it failed to explode.
“But then, when the arson investigators came the next day, they said it could’ve been much worse,” Fitch said. “It could’ve been much, much worse. And the sanctuary could’ve burned.”
A series of disturbing crimes targeting churches on Memorial Drive is under investigation by Houston police, who believe all of the incidents may have been committed by the same man. Three different churches were vandalized in at least ten different incidents within the last year.
Federal investigators are also involved in the case, probing the attempted firebombing.
The vandal also beheaded a statue of Jesus, then returned on another night to knock the sculpture over and break it into pieces. Grainy surveillance video at Christ Lutheran Church shows a man believed to be in his early 30s driving away in a 1990s era Ford Focus.
“I sure wish someone could catch him,” said Barry Leitko, a maintenance man at Christ Lutheran. “I can’t see anyone doing this, especially to a church.”
Police believe the same suspect was probably responsible for throwing large rocks into the shatterproof windows at Emmanel Episcopal Church.
Rev. Janie Kirt Morris said both of the crimes happened within about a month of each other.
A hate crime investigator from the Houston Police Department arrived at St. Thomas on Thursday morning. Investigators said none of the churches targeted in the attacks reported any problems with parishioners, or anyone else who might have had a motive.
“It makes me think that it’s somebody who has a problem with the church,” Fitch said. “We put up a sign and said, ‘We still love you.’ And that didn’t seem to help any.”
Investigators ask anyone with information on the crimes to call Crime Stoppers at (713) 222-TIPS.