HAMMOND — “We're having service. We are determined,” Janet Keck, Faith United Church of Christ’s assistant senior elder, said as she sat on guard Thursday, just days after vandals broke in and trashed the church.
“We are not going to be kept out of our church.”
Hammond police responded to the area of 3000 block of 175th Street for reported vandalism at the church around 7 a.m. Wednesday, finding significant damage to the interior of the facility. An altar, an organ, restrooms, a display case and an office were damaged.
Police believe the incident may have occurred late Tuesday night.
Lori Pizer, who has worked as the church’s custodian for more than 10 years, was the first to find the destruction.
When she walked into the church Wednesday morning, the first thing Pizer noticed was the ceiling had fallen. She then heard rushing water, leading her to believe the roof might have been damaged from the severe weather that hit Memorial Day.
But when she went around to the front of the building and found glass scattered everywhere, she knew the situation was much worse.
“Devastated. I felt completely devastated,” Pizer said. “How could someone do this? Why?”
Hate messages were painted inside of the church, Pizer said. Vandals wrote"666" on a window outside of the Pastor’s office and "Hail Satan" on a printer.
Her instinct was to start cleaning the mess, but Pizer said she knew she had to stop and call the right people to help. This was something she couldn't handle on her own.
“They told me to get out and then it took hours to get back in to even see everything. That was hard, too, because we wanted to know what was going on,” she said.
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Even with all the damage, Pizer said it appears nothing was stolen from the building.
An estimated cost of damage has not been finalized yet for the church.
Immediately after police arrived and gathered evidence, Keck said members of the church got to work. Shattered glass, mirrors and porcelain were swept from the floors. Walls were wiped and broken fixtures were moved out of sight. The altar was put back in place.
“We are an aging congregation, but we somehow managed," Keck said. "Twenty people worked over three hours. Our main concern was having the chapel set up for church Sunday.”
The Faith United Church of Christ is one of the oldest in the area. Founded more than a century ago, the congregation has been in the Hammond building since 1964.
Hammond Police Chief John Doughty said police are using "every investigative tool including recovered video surveillance and even blood evidence found at the scene" to find the vandals.
“This is an act that shakes the core of our good city," Doughty said. "We will not stand for this type crime to any business or home in our city."
As of Thursday afternoon, there were no updates provided by police involving the investigation. It is unknown how suspects were involved and the motivation for the crime.
Keck said Faith United Church of Christ members are not only focused on prepping for Sunday’s service, but also spreading the word to make other congregations more aware and cautious to avoid victimization.
“We have been violated," she said. "To see a place where so many people here and before us have worked and worshiped, it’s sad. If it happened to us, it could happen to anybody.”
Anyone with information about this crime or possible suspects can contact Detective Lt. Mark Detterline at 219-852-2962 or Detective Sgt. Robert Maldonado at 219-852-2975.