Lakeland Ledger

Churches, Offices Attacked In Arson and Vandalism Spree

By John Chambliss
john.chambliss@theledger.com

The Ledger


LAKELAND -- A day-care classroom at a church was damaged in an arson early Tuesday, and four businesses and a second church were vandalized during a related crime spree near the Southgate Shopping Center, city officials said.

Late Tuesday, police were searching for any witnesses to the crimes.

No one was injured in the incident that started about 6:45 a.m. when someone entered the church through a window at the United Methodist Temple at 2700 South Florida Ave.

The vandal or vandals set a bookcase on fire. Someone who noticed the smoke called the Lakeland Fire Department. Firefighters arrived at the building in about five minutes and immediately extinguished the blaze, said Fire Department spokeswoman Cheryl Wahl.

Wahl could not provide a specific dollar figure for the damage.

No children were inside the room when the fire started, but about 35 preschoolers were forced to switch classrooms because of smoke and water damage.

"It is a pretty sick thing to do, to destroy a children's room like that," said Louise Urquhart, the secretary of the church. "It has inconvenienced a lot of people, especially the children."

Police and fire officials said the arson appeared related to the vandalism of several businesses and a second church, all located near the United Methodist Temple on the east side of South Florida Avenue, across the street from the Southgate Shopping Center.

The Faith Lutheran Church at 211 Easton Drive, and two dentists' offices and a construction preservation and remodeling business on Kerneywood Street were vandalized, police said.

At a dentist's office at 117 Kerneywood, a business administrator said the phone lines were cut, and two air conditioners and a water softener were destroyed.

Damage to the office was estimated at more than $1,500.

At the Faith Lutheran Church, the suspects ripped telephones off the wall, dumped food on the floor and damaged two vehicles in the parking lot, police said.

It's unclear if the vandalism at Faith Lutheran or the other businesses happened before or after the United Methodist Temple fire.

Wahl, the Fire Department spokeswoman, said that a reward was being offered for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved with the arson and vandalism.

John Chambliss can be reached at john.chambliss@theledger.com or 863-802-7539.