Copper thief strikes downcounty churches
Police say one man responsible for several robberies
Montgomery County police are searching for a man they say is responsible for eight copper burglaries, many of which occurred at churches in Bethesda, Rockville and Kensington in May.
The man removed copper downspouts and pipes from the outside of the buildings, said Montgomery County police spokeswoman Officer Melanie Brenner. All of the thefts occurred between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
"This is the first time I've heard of someone targeting existing buildings," Brenner said. "Usually you see this kind of thing at construction sites or new homes."
The first theft occurred May 6 at the Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda. The most recent was May 28, at Christ Church Parish in Kensington. Other targets include: Grace Episcopal Church and St. John's Evangelical Church in Silver Spring, the Norwood Park building in Chevy Chase, St. Paul's Church and Christ Episcopal Church in Kensington and Shrine of St. Jude in Aspen Hill.
Brenner said the thief is likely not targeting churches specifically, but older buildings that still have copper downspouts to irrigate rainwater.
Thieves typically sell the stolen metals at scrap yards, where the sale is anonymous, Brenner said.
The Montgomery County Scrap Corporation, the largest scrap metal purchaser in the county, pays $2 per pound for "clean copper," down from $2.30 last month. "Clean copper" does not contain other metals. "Dirty copper" is worth about $1.70 and is also down by 30 cents from last month.
Sanelma Sutton, an administrator at Westmoreland, said her congregation has been seen a number of thefts and break-ins in recent years, prompting the church to install surveillance cameras.
"Unfortunately, people don't seem to think twice about stealing from a church," she said. "So we have to take the same precautions as everyone else; we've got coded locks and security cameras on places where we've had issues."
Anyone with information regarding the thefts is asked to contact the 2nd District Investigative Section at 301-657-0112 or the Montgomery County Police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000.