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VANDALS TEAR CHURCH APART

They shatter glass, break electronics and take cash, but the pastor finds one miracle.

One of the smashed church clocks stopped at 11:20 p.m. That might have been when the spree happened.

On Wednesday night, at least one person - if not a group - broke through a glass door in the shape of a cross at Shady Hills United Methodist Church on Greenglen Lane. The church has a food bank and feeds hot meals to about 50 senior citizens every day, as well as gives them frozen meals to take home. The church has a thrift store and collects toys, clothes and food to give to needy families.

The vandals reached in through the shattered cross and unlocked the front door. Once inside, they destroyed just for the sake of destruction, said Pastor Christopher Schmidt.

"It saddens me," he said.

They wielded a 3-foot wooden cross as a club, Schmidt said. They threw church papers and pamphlets and pens, and broke picture frames, spraying shattered glass through rooms. They tossed books off shelves and smashed a coffeepot, according to a report from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

They broke a small television and a VCR in the nursery, where children used to watch videos. They stole the children's toys.

They broke a 30-gallon fish tank in the fellowship hall. There had been 15 fish living inside it.

They broke into the sanctuary and the church's other building - named Compassion in Action - where the members do their outreach programs.

The vandals stole some cash and some food. They stole all the keys to the church's buildings, so the locks had to be changed Thursday. That was expensive, Schmidt said. The Sheriff's Office said damage to the church was thousands of dollars.

After the vandals' tornado indoors, they took stolen eggs from the food pantry and threw them on sheriff's cars parked in the lot. Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said the six cars - four marked, two unmarked - were parked there because deputies cannot take agency cars outside of the county. Doll said it is common for deputies who live outside Pasco to park their vehicles at churches.

A deputy saw the egged cars and discovered the open door at the church Thursday morning, a report states.

Schmidt got a call at 6 a.m. about the vandalism. He and church staffers stayed outside of the church Thursday morning to let detectives do their work. He said he will use this in his sermon on Sunday.

"This challenges us to live out the words we profess - to pray for our enemies," he said. "We will pray for them. We will pray for whatever in their lives is so broken that it would lead to this."

Schmidt and his staffers were allowed inside the building around 10 a.m. As they walked through the fellowship hall, where all of the fish had been left to die, someone noticed something wiggling in the tank.

One fish somehow survived, for who knows how many hours, embedded in the tank's gravel, with just enough moisture to keep on going. The pastor didn't know what type of fish it was, just that it was alive.

They scooped it up and put it in a punch bowl with some water. At first, they named it Lucky.

Then they changed it to Miracle.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

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FAST FACTS

To contact church

Visit shadyhillsumc.com or call (727) 856-2948. The address is 15925 Greenglen Lane in Shady Hills. The church runs a food bank for senior citizens and a thrift store, and makes baskets of food and toys for needy families, in addition to other outreach programs.

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FAST FACTS

How to help

If you have any information about the people who vandalized the church, call the Sheriff's Office toll-free at 1-800-706-2488. Information may be left anonymously.

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