“Ron Schmitt just called me, saying the police refused to go to his church and investigate some vandalism,” my editor, Angela Mann said, “I’d like you to go up and take a look around. I think there’s a good story in this.”
Ron was a Sparks’s city councilman and part of the lay-clergy at the Holy Cross Catholic church on Vista Blvd. I called him on his cell-phone and asked if he could meet me at the church.
Ron said he would.
About fifteen minutes later, I pulled into the nearly vacant parking lot. I gathered my camera and note pad and walked towards the front door of the building. I noticed right away that the glass doors were missing, having been replaced with plywood boards.
Carefully I pushed the door hand and found that the door frame was still in working order. I went inside the church.
Once inside I found I was walking on tiny shards of glass from the now-shattered doors. I continued through the front of the building towards the voices he heard in the back.
“Hello, I’m with the Tribune,” I said as I held out a hand to the two women in the back office.
One of the women shook it, saying, “We were told to expect you.”
“Is it okay if I have a look around?” I asked.
“Certainly,” the woman answered.
Turning, I went back out to the front of the building. I wanted to look over the damage and develop a few questions as I waited for Ron. As I was viewing the damage I noticed a small hole in the wall near a picture frame.
Jus’ as I was looking for something to climb or stand on, so I could get a better look at the hole, the church priest, Father Wolf came into the room.
He asked, “Did you get a look at the back office?”
“No,” I answered, following the priest to the back of the church.
A double pane window had been shattered in the business manager’s office. There were small bits of glass strewn all about the small room.
It was starting to look like the damage wasn’t jus’ simple an act of vandalism. However I needed more evidence before I could say anything.
Looking outside the back door, near the business manager’s office, I searched the gravel-covered ground until I found what I was looking for. I then went back inside.
“Father, was there any other damage?” I asked.
“Yeah,” the priest responded, “They busted up a piece of stained glass.”
Asking if I could have a look at the stain glass, I was shown to a room off the main hallway, where a red and white stain glass series of crosses rested against the wall.
Father Wolf told me that the glass had been hanging on one of the busted out front windows. The damage to the glass was severe.
There were three holes about the size of silver dollars busted out of the wood framed stained glass. Father Wolf speculated that the vandals must have rammed a metal bar or pipe through the windows and the doors to bust them out like they had.
Walking back out into the front of the church I put all the pieces together. Then I called Angela, to report my findings.
“This church was shot up,” I told her.
She immediately decided to call Ron with my findings. The councilman arrived at the church in less than five minutes.
While I waited for the councilman, I poked around the front lobby. I stood in front of the busted out glass doors and looked around the room, where I happened to notice a small dimple in a free-standing wooden cross.
It was a dent, no deeper than a quarter of an inch and it looked fresh, judging from the newly exposed wood and chips of paint at the cross’ base. It was while looking at the paint flakes that I found the other half of what he was looking for; a piece of flattened metal no bigger than a dime.
Then I moved over to the wall and climbed up on a table top in front of the hole in the wall, I had started to look at before the priest had called me away. There I saw what I believed to be another piece of dull metal.
Ron walked through the front door just as I was climbing down from the table top. He had a look of anger on his face.
“I just got off the telephone with Chief Dotson,” he said.
“And what did he have to say?” I asked.
The councilman smiled wryly, “He didn’t have much to say because I read him the riot act.”
Ron explained how the police were called around eight that morning when the damage was first discovered. They had refused to come out and investigate because it was jus’ a case of vandalism.
“I told the chief that had they done their job like they’re supposed too, I wouldn’t have had to call the newspaper and that a reporter wouldn’t be doing their work for them,” Ron said.
Then he added, “By you finding bullets and casings — that make this situation even more damaging for the police.”
Ron also told me that Chief Dotson was on his way to the church.
“I speculate that he’s looking to do some damage control,” Ron finished.
While we waited for the chief to arrive, I walked the councilman through the building and to each piece of the puzzle. I even walked the councilman outside the back door and pointed out the spent shell casing and shoe prints.
That’s where I decided to try a minor experiment. I told Ron to watch as I picked up the spent shell casing between my thumb and pointer finger with my left hand, then setting the casing back down where I had found it.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Ron asked incredulously.
“It’s a little test to see if they test it for prints,” I said as I looked up, smiling at the taller man.
“Well, what if they do? Your prints will come back and you could be accused of being the person who shot the church up,” Ron replied.
“That’s why I had you watch me do it,” I replied, “and you saw what I did and I’ve told you why. So you’re my witness.”
The councilman’s face grew into a broad smile.
Chief Dotson arrived within minutes. The councilman escorted him to the back of the building.
I tried to walk back with the pair but I was waved off by Chief Dotson.
Angela arrived a few minutes after that to look at the damage. That’s when one of the two women said that she had found a strange piece of metal on her desk when she first opened her door.
“Really?” asked in astonishment, adding, “Where’s it now?”
She said that she had thrown it out because she didn’t think it was worth anything. I dug through the garbage can near the woman’s desk and found the slug of metal.
Angela took a photograph of it as I held it in the palm of my hand. Then I handed it to Chief Dotson.
Outside on the front lawn was another police officer. He was bent over looking in the grass, searching for more bullet casings.
He had already picked up the casing in the back of the building. And it didn’t take him long to find two more identical casings in the grass.
“We probably won’t find any finger prints on these,” he said.
“Does that mean you’re not going to send them to the lab?” I asked.
But he didn’t answer me. I suspected he had been instructed to say as little as possible to me as I was an investigative reporter and his words could end up in the next morning’s newspaper.
The case was never solved and nothing was ever said about my finger prints being on evidence.