Church congregation made victims by gunman - and by HB12

January 5, 2004
Toledo Blade

Masked gunman terrorizes church
Fear won't deter worshippers

If the robber had asked, the congregation of St. Stephen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church probably would have lent a helping hand.

But since they were forced to give him money while he had a gun pointed at the heads of two young girls, members of the congregation were in a less charitable mood yesterday.

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"We’re not angry, but we’re hurt," said the Rev. Thomas Fant, pastor of the church for seven years.

"The young man needs help," Mr. Fant said. "The church is where you come for help, but he’s alienated himself from that now. If he would have come and asked, we would have tried to help him."

On Sunday, just after services ended, a young robber entered the church on City Park Avenue and demanded money.

Twice, the robber grabbed young girls and threatened them with a handgun. He said he would kill one of them if the congregation didn’t come up with $500.

Mr. Fant said the two girls involved were not harmed physically. He said the 12-year-old girl is fine but the 9-year-old girl was still a little shaken.

Toledo Police Chief Michael Navarre said there will be an increased police presence in the neighborhood and officers will be placed in various churches in the area during services.

Yesterday, Mayor Jack Ford expressed shock over the crime and announced a reward for information leading to the arrest of the robber.

"This crime is totally outrageous," said Mr. Ford during a news conference yesterday morning. "We want to send a message that crimes like this will not be tolerated."

Meanwhile Mayor Ford vigorously opposes concealed carry legislation which would help send such a message, and presides over a city which bans the practice of open carry, held up by five Supreme Court Justices as the proper means for self-defense in Ohio.

Take note: the anti-concealed carry police chief's attempt to deter such a crime from happening again involves placing armed persons in the churches during worship.

House Bill 12 would continue to make churches victim zones, unless the church specifically authorizes licenseholders to bring their firearms into the building.

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