Okla. Church Catches Fire After Robberies

July 24--TAHLEQUAH -- Authorities are looking for the person accused of breaking into the Crescent Valley Baptist Church two times this week and likely causing a fire that damaged the youth building early Wednesday morning.

Trouble first surfaced early Tuesday morning at the church on U.S. Highway 62 south of Tahlequah, in the Woodall area. Church members said they discovered damage throughout one of the church facilities. Several rooms were vandalized, as were doors and windows.

Around $2,000 in cash was stolen, along with food items, a Canon T3I camera and lenses, and a MacBook Pro laptop computer.

The suspect left behind some of the tools used to commit the burglary, along with a purple Sacramento Kings cap. Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said the evidence will be submitted to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for fingerprint and DNA analysis, but he hopes someone may recognize the hat and the person it belongs to.

Authorities were called back to the church at 3:23 a.m. Wednesday morning when Cherokee County 911 dispatchers received a call about a fire at the youth center. Woodall firefighters responded and later asked for help from the Tahlequah and Fort Gibson departments.

Heavy smoke billowed from the youth center as firefighters tried to extinguish the blaze. After the fire had been put out, church staff discovered the building had again been burglarized.

The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office and the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal's Office are investigating the cause of the fire, which is believed to be arson.

"It is our belief that the same suspect is responsible for both burglaries and starting the fire, whether the fire was intentional or accidental," said Chennault.

Anyone with information about the burglaries or the fire at the church is asked to call 918-456-2583 and speak with Chennault, Sgt. Casey Baker, or Investigator Justin Hackworth.

According to a post on the Muskogee Baptist Association's Facebook page, church members at Crescent Valley were scheduled to begin a mission trip today, and items they were taking on the trip were destroyed.

Copyright 2014 - Tahlequah Daily Press, Okla.