The Callaway County Sheriff’s Department announced Thursday (Dec. 3) it arrested four teenagers for massive vandalism last week to a historic Black Baptist church founded by enslaved persons before the Civil War. The damage to Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church in rural Callaway County will likely take tens of thousands of dollars to repair.
The four male juveniles arrested Wednesday range in age from 14 to 16 and are from nearby Holts Summit or Jefferson City in neighboring Cole County. They face felony burglary and property damage charges, and have been transferred to the Juvenile Justice Center in Columbia.
“We offer our appreciation to the local Callaway County community for not only the lead information they provided to law enforcement, but also the outpouring of support that has been given to the Mount Vernon leadership and congregation,” the Callaway County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. “We consider the acts committed upon this church to be offensive and despicable and frankly, not an adequate representation of our community.”
“The investigation remains active and further arrests/charges are possible,” the statement added.
The FBI remains in communication with local officials. At this point, the attack has not been deemed a hate crime by the authorities. Callaway officials expressed appreciation to the Jefferson City Police Department for assisting with identifying suspects, and for the Audrain County Sheriff’s Office for helping with quick evidence processing.
Although suspects have been arrested for last week’s incident, the church’s pastor, Gordon Coleman, told Word&Way before the arrests that this is not an isolated event.
“In the past we’ve had extensive damage but not to that severity,” he said. “We will get hit on the regular. Windows busted, doors shot in by high-caliber weapons. Just the last two months we got shot five or six times.”
The attacks on the church actually go back decades, which adds to the expenses now since they can no longer insure their older building. In addition to repairing the damage to both their historic structure and their new facility, the church also hopes to raise funds to install a more sophisticated security system than the one the vandals knocked out last week.
NOTE: For anyone who would like to give to help Mount Vernon repair the damage: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1904613 or Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, PO Box 116, Holts Summit, MO 65043 (with “Building Fund” in memo).