Whoever broke into two Rio Communities Churches early Saturday left a major piece of evidence behind that may help police find who is responsible for the burglaries.
When Valencia County Sheriff’s deputies responded to an alarm at 3:45 a.m. Saturday at the Abundant Christian Center, they found a truck that police believe the thieves used parked outside of the church. Valencia County Sheriff’s detectives said the truck, a Chevy S-10 pickup, was left behind when a citizen caught the burglars in the act.
“While the suspect was in the Abundant Life Christian Church, a sensor went off and sounded an alarm,” said Valencia County Sheriff’s Detective Rodney Jones. “He was getting all their computer equipment, televisions and other valuables lined up so he could drive around the side and load everything up in the hallway.”
Jones said someone broke into the church through a window and kicked in about five doors to get into several offices and rooms of the church. The door jams and several windows inside the church were broken as a result of the attempted burglary.
“Before he was able to leave, the alarm went off, and he stayed in there a little bit too long,” Jones said. “A citizen went down there and saw some guy pass by the window a couple of times. The citizen said the thief must have bailed out through the back and left his truck on the side of the church.”
According to Jones, the suspect ran from the church on foot, leaving the truck behind.
Five minutes after the unidentified citizen called the police, deputies were on the scene, searching for the suspect. Deputies followed the suspect’s tracks across NM 47 and lost sight of him near the river.
“They were right on him,” Jones said. “It had been raining, the ground was wet and they could track him pretty easily.”
When officers returned to the church, they discovered a safe in the bed of the truck.
“When we found a safe, it led us back to the Valley Baptist Church, which is only about 100 yards away from the first church,” said Detective James Purdy.
The suspect reportedly got into the Valley Baptist Church by prying open a door with a tire iron, Jones said. Because the interior doors were unlocked, there was no other property damage.
“I would estimate the thief would have stolen thousands of dollars of equipment if they hadn’t been caught in the act,” Jones said.
Purdy said he believes more than one person was involved in the break-ins.
“Based on the evidence at the scene, we believe there is more than one suspect,” Purdy said. “We also believe several of these particular persons that we’re looking for may be responsible for additional burglaries in the county.”
The detectives said that, although the case is still under investigation, they hope the vehicle can be linked to suspects and they are confident they will make arrests soon.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.