Three Lodi churches were the victim of break-ins earlier this week, according to Sgt. Steve Nelson of the Lodi Police Department.
On Tuesday morning, pastor Lori Sawdon entered her office at the First United Methodist Church on West Oak Street to find the place ransacked.
But computers, cash donations and tools remained. The only item missing was a large bronze urn containing the remains of longtime Lodi resident Tita Hutchens.
In October, an outdoor niche holding that urn and two others was damaged. The church moved them into the pastor’s office while the niche was under construction.
The thieves may have assumed the heavy metal item was worth something to a recycler, said Nelson. The other two urns were not metal.
“If it looks valuable, somebody will steal it,” he said. “I doubt they knew what it was. Most criminals aren’t in tune with that.”
The urn and its contents are very valuable to Leanne Schaeffer, Hutchens’ daughter, however.
When Hutchens passed away in 2006, her remains were interred at the church. Schaeffer considered taking the urn to her home in San José during the remodeling, but thought her mother would prefer to stay with the church.
“I felt reassured that she was at her church, and I didn’t come get her,” said Schaeffer. “We are just devastated.”
Two other churches were burgled that same evening.
An Apple laptop was taken from Pastor Jack Dawson’s office at United Congregational Christian Church on South Hutchins Street.
The laptop held church documents, including planned sermons, said Dawson. Other items were strewn on the floor, and drawers were hanging open. The door to Dawson’s office was broken, and several other doors were damaged but still locked.
Lawn equipment was stolen from a storage garage on the property of St. Peter Lutheran Church. A heavy-duty lock was sawn off the door and a leaf blower, lawn edger and a trimmer were taken. The value of the items totals about $800, according to office manager Donna Kah.
The crimes are still under investigation. Police do not yet have suspects.
“If it’s something like that, where there’s three in one night, it’s probably the same people,” said Nelson. “Right now we have no way of knowing. But it’s awfully coincidental.”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.