MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW) – In a crime that church members call “ungodly,” thieves stole a customized bus from a church in Maple Heights early Tuesday morning.
Pastor Ron Morrison of Hope Alliance Bible Church says the new bus was purchased by the church in 2020 and has served as a lifeline to members of his congregation.
“So that we could pick up the children to bring them to our after school program, take them on camping trips, pick up members who needed a ride and just all sort of activities. It had a wheelchair lift on it and we were just enjoying serving the community with that new bus,” said Pastor Morrison.
On Tuesday, the pastor contacted Maple Heights police after discovering that the Starcraft bus, valued at $62,000, had been stolen.
He says the thieves broke out a window to get inside.
The parking lot exits were chain locked, so the thieves drove over the curb and across the grass to get out of the lot.
“There was anger, there was sadness, there was disgust. You feel violated and then you feel sad for the people who were depending on us to give them the rides and transportation they need, and now we need to find a way to replace it,” said Pastor Morrison.
A church surveillance camera showed that the bus was in the parking lot at 3:49 a.m. Tuesday, and then an hour later, it was gone.
The surveillance camera did not show the thieves taking the vehicle.
The pastor believes it was the work of professional criminals who found a way to scramble the camera equipment, and he suspects they will attempt to alter the appearance of the bus and sell it.
The theft happened on a night when there was extensive criminal activity in the surrounding area.
“The responding officer told us that on the same night our van was stolen, the Maple Heights Service Center had catalytic converters stolen. Garfield Heights, which is right up the road, they had converters stolen, and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts had converters stolen, so we believe there’s a gang of criminal activity taking place,” he said.
Pastor Morrison says the church is now working with its insurance company to make arrangements to get a new bus if the one taken is not recovered.
“We’ve been praying for them, we’re praying that God would bring them to repentance. One member said ‘I’m going to pray that they actually come back and wind up worshipping with you and asking for forgiveness,’” he said.
Anyone with information about the stolen bus is asked to call Maple Heights Police.