By Sabina Mollot
Police have released surveillance photos of the man who coolly strode into Immaculate Conception Church on Sunday, prowled various rooms and then left with $11,000 in cash from a rectory bedroom on Sunday.
Based on the photos and video that was taken, the church’s pastor, Monsignor Kevin Nelan said he believes the man is Hispanic, and in his 20s, brushing 30. Based on his actions, he added, police are looking into the possibility that someone gave him information about where to look for the money.
The unidentified man first entered the church at 414 East 14th Street at 1:15 p.m. as a group of parishioners was entering the building. He then tried to access a few rooms including — twice — Nelan’s locked bedroom in the rectory. “That’s what made me think someone gave him information,” Nelan said. The man also didn’t bother searching anywhere in a community room he went into. The bedroom broken into was on the third floor, which doesn’t have cameras, and the priest who was victimized didn’t even realize the money had been taken from his nightstand until Tuesday.
Based on security footage, the man was in the church building for around 25 minutes before he was finally confronted by employees and escorted out. This was when the parish’s music director immediately realized he shouldn’t be there and asked what he was doing, Nelan said. In response, the man mumbled that he was looking for someone named Maria, but he still didn’t leave until confronted by two other employees, one of whom followed him through the stairs out the door.
“He was either very confident or very stupid,” said Nelan. “He didn’t know or didn’t care that he was being filmed.”
Since the incident, detectives from the 9th Precinct have been interviewing church employees who worked on Sunday about the prowler. “They’re going after any lead they can find,” said Nelan, who said at this time there is still no suspect in mind. However, he added, “We’re going to put his picture everywhere.”
The man was able to access the building when a church employee opened the door for a group of people heading to a meeting room. Though initially the burglar was thought to be in the middle of the group, he was actually at the end, possibly waiting for someone to open the door. “As it was closing, he stepped inside,” said Nelan, who added that since the incident, church employees have been spoken to about being more vigilant about keeping track of the entrances. Still, he stressed he didn’t think it was the fault of the woman who let him in. “It’s like at a building when someone waits for an old lady to come in and puts his foot in the door. We all have to be more vigilant. Thank God no one was hurt. Thank God he wasn’t violent.”
The burglary suspect is a light skinned man who was wearing a black baseball hat, brown shorts, white sneakers and a red t-shirt. Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at (800) 577-TIPS. The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers Website at nypdcrimestoppers.com or texting TIP577 and their tips to 274637(CRIMES).