Durham County

‘It’s like they’re taunting us,” outreach chairman says after robbers strike Durham church 3rd time

A turkey vulture perches on a metal cross above St. Paul United Methodist Church on a blue-sky afternoon in Durham.
A turkey vulture perches on a metal cross above St. Paul United Methodist Church on a blue-sky afternoon in Durham. cwarrenhicks@heraldsun.com

A Methodist church’s outreach ministry has been robbed, once again.

Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse, an outreach ministry of St. Paul United Methodist Church at 2700 N. Roxboro St., has been robbed three times in the past four weeks.

Police think the latest break-in occurred around 10:40 p.m. Thursday when security camera footage shows someone entering the building, Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said. The suspect took a whisker blender and $3 worth of pastries.

“They didn’t take anything very valuable this time,” said Richard Ward, Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse chairman. “It’s like they’re taunting us.”

The first of the three robberies at the coffeehouse was reported May 25 and the second June 9, Michael said.

The coffeehouse and its performance space have been broken into and robbed “six to seven times” Ward said.

Sacred Grounds does not charge a fee for its coffee. It only takes donations. On Saturday nights, it hosts musical performances by Triangle-based and out-of-state artists.

Administrators installed security cameras after the coffeehouse was robbed Nov. 17, 2016, and over $1,700 worth of equipment including amplifiers, soundboards, speakers and accompanying electrical cords was stolen.

Surveillance footage suggests the three most recent robberies were committed by youths – most likely teenagers.

▪ On May 25, three young people broke a window and and stole refreshments and an acoustic guitar off of a wall. The cameras showed one suspect carrying an orange backpack.

▪ On June 8, one young suspect, carrying an orange backpack, was caught on camera after breaking in through the roof and entering through the ceiling tiles, Ward said. The suspect turned one camera’s lens skyward away from himself and took a second camera off its mount. The suspect also turned off circuit breakers, cutting power to part of the building.

▪ On June 15, one suspect – again, carrying an orange backpack – entered through a small attic’s hatch located on the building’s exterior, maneuvered through the crawl-space-like attic and bashed a hole in the ceiling. The robber spray painted the security camera lenses dark green, blurring their images until the the paint dried.

“Except for a couple of things – like not shaking the spray-paint bottle – these guys are no dummies,” said Phil Bowling, entertainment director for Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse.

“It’s obvious that these guys are very familiar with the layout of the building and had been here before they started breaking in,” said Ward, adding neighbors have reported seeing a young man carrying an orange backpack near the church in broad daylight.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks