RIO COMMUNITIES—A Jarales man is accused of living in a Rio Communities church for several days, causing thousands of dollars in damage and destroying or selling items donated to victims of a recent wildfire.
On Monday, May 6, Valencia County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of a burglary in progress at the Lighthouse Church of Nazarene on La Luna Place.
Church members had noticed activity in one of the buildings during the week prior and when they attempted to enter the church, found the doors were barricaded from the inside.
They forced the doors open and heard an intruder running through the building.
Deputies were called and conducted a security sweep, and found Ryan Fitzwater, 32, of Jarales, in the attic. He was taken into custody after a short foot pursuit, and booked into the Valencia County Detention Center.
Fitzwater is charged with burglary, criminal damage to property and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer
“I’m just glad no one was hurt,” said pastor Chad Good. “Things can be replaced.”
Church staff checked the building after Fitzwater’s arrest and found significant damage to the building itself. They also reported many of the items being stored at the church that had been donated to families that lost their homes in the Iron Works Fire in March were either missing or irreparably damaged.
“A lot of the items have to be thrown away. He was smoking meth in the room he barricaded himself into,” Good said.
According to a press release from VCSO, Fitzwater had moved a bed, microwave and donated furniture into a room and barricaded the door from the inside. There were also personal items belongings to the man in the room.
Good, who’s been the pastor of the Nazarene church for almost two decades, said Fitzwater had been hanging around on the church property for the last month and been kicked off a few times.
While in the building, Good said Fitzwater ate any food he could find, and urinated and defecated on the floor in numerous places.
“The sad thing is, he could have come to the door of the church and we would have given him food, clothing and set him up with a place to live,” the pastor said.
Understanding that community members may want to help replace the donated items that were taken or damaged, Good said the church is directing people to work with the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department’s auxiliary.
“We’d like them to go through the auxiliary to help down the road,” Good said. “A lot (of the donations) did go out to families but we still had quite a bit.”
The church’s insurance company will cover the damage to the building, he said, but not the contents.
“But the clean up alone is terrible. We found so much drug paraphernalia in the room,” he said. “I’m imagining hazmat suits.”
Good said Fitzwater broke doors and stripped copper out of the walls, most likely to sell to feed his drug habit.
“At his arraignment, the judge said he could stay in jail,” he said. “I hope they keep him in there so he can get help and get his life back together.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.