HOUSTON COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Prayers have been answered for the congregation at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Kennard, which was broken into overnight Thursday, April 16th. Houston County Sherif'f's Office has arrested and charged a man for burglarizing the church and stealing its transport van. Investigators arrested Matthew Lennen and have charged him with:
- State Jail Felony Theft - Bond $10000
- Unauthorized use of a vehicle State Jail Felony - Bond $10000
- Evading arrest/Detention Class A Misdemeanor -Bond $8000
Lennen's capture has 82-year-old church deacon Willie Mitchell, Sr., praising God and thanking the sheriff's department.
“I'm proud that they caught him, because...,” Mitchell said while reflecting on the right words to say, “…it wouldn't have done for me to have caught.”
Mitchell joined New Hope when he was 12. So, after 70 years of membership at his church, he's very protective of the sanctuary.
“I try to see about the church; and the welfare of the church,” he said with conviction. “That's my job. We've never had nothing like that happen before. I'm glad they caught him."
Houston County Deputy Chief J.P. Shearer said they caught Lennen through persistent policing and assistance from video surveillance camera at the Family Dollar store on Loop 304 in the old Bealls shopping center. The camera inside the store points out toward the entrance. Shearer said Lennen could be seen walking past the store in the direction of Atlas Cash & Pawn, a few stores down in the same shopping center. It also had a surveillance camera.
“After investigators looked at it they determined who that was,” Shearer said about the investigator who had stopped Lennen last week. "He received another phone call from someone saying, 'Hey! They church van is up in Grapeland, Texas. And the guy driving it is looking for a pawn shop."
So, when the investigator identified the image in the surveillance camera as Lennen, the sheriff's office knew who they were looking for in connection with the stolen food, two keyboards, an amplifier and other audio-related equipment from the church.
“They went ahead and moved forward. They did locate him,” the chief deputy explained about the capture. “After a brief pursuit, they arrested him and brought him here to jail.”
But they arrested Lennen on a warrant charge from the state of Missouri.
On Sunday, Deacon Mitchell was adamant that drugs were involved.
“We got a lot of crack heads around Kennard, whether you know it or not,” Mitchell said on Sunday. But with Lennen's arrest and his residence at a place locals call a “compound” for people with drug problems, Mitchell said he knew something had to be wrong with a person to break into a church.
“He got all the cooking ingredients. Black Pepper. Salt. He got all of that,” Miller recalled about how the church's pantry was raided in the burglary. He said he's seen other folks on methamphetamine in Kennard. And the deacon say people around the community are talking about those in the “compound” because they are hungry—a side effect of their high, Miller believes.
Chief Deputy Shearer said that Houston County is just like other parts of the country when it comes to the war on drugs: It's everywhere. The challenge for law enforcement is what people do to feed their drug habit.
"Drugs are a problem. Whether its methamphetamine, whether it's cocaine or other types of synthetic marijuana cocaine…You name it,” Shearer explained. “Something that they can get high on for cheap. They'll love it. They'll do it."
Deacon Mitchell said he's prayed for Lennen.
“[For God to]…bless him. Help him. May he turn his life around. May never not do that again,” Mitchell said.
The next step in Lennen's life are to face the church burglary charges. Deputies have not closed their investigation. So, other charges may be likely.