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Hate crime or just crime
Concord churches targeted in recent vandalism spree

Members of three churches in Old Concord say they won’t be intimidated by recent bouts of vandalism.

“We just consider it just a temporary setback. Because we’re not going anywhere,” said Huey Moulden, of Concord Original Church of God.

Vandals have broken nearly every window in Concord AME Zion Church since the beginning of January. They’ve targeted Concord Original Church of God, just down the street off Loop Road, three times since December.

Last week, the vandals also broke out 10 windows in the sanctuary of the Church of God and four windows at Concord Presbyterian Church on the other side of the historic village.

“Some people think it’s random, but personally I don’t. I do think the churches are being targeted. It’s not a randomness; it seems to be very calculated,” said AME Zion pastor the Rev. Stephen Steele.

“We are experiencing very calculated moves of seemingly just trying to be a nuisance,” he added.

“They’re trying to send a message, saying it with their actions,” Steele’s wife, the Rev. Elaine Steele, said.

All three churches have filed police reports with Knox County Sheriff’s Office. They also have requested increased KCSO patrols in the area. Late last week, the FBI joined the investigation.

“We are working in partnership with Knox County Sheriff’s Office to determine if there’s a federal Civil Rights [Act] violation,” said Stacie Bohanon, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Knoxville office. If the incidents were found to be Civil Rights violations, they’d carry stiff federal penalties.

In all the vandalism cases, the windows — double paned in the Church of God — were broken out, glass shards scattered on the carpet and among the pews of the church, but no signs of rocks or other items thrown through.

There also are no signs of anyone entering the churches or taking anything.

“Tonight, driving by our sanctuary, I saw that we do have four broken windows ourselves on the side facing Second Drive,” Concord Presbyterian pastor the Rev. David Webster said.

“This is only a guess, but I think they must have been broken Monday or Tuesday night. Inside there were no rocks or evidence of anything being thrown — just the glass on the floor,” he added.

Following the vandalism, Concord AME Zion has boarded up every single window in its building.

“This is kind of a nuisance,” the Rev. Stephen Steele said.

“This is just outrageous,” Moulden said.

The three churches are primarily composed of adult or elderly members and cleanup is a hassle. Concord AME Zion and Concord Church of God are largely comprised of black congregants.

The Rev. Elaine Steele said about a year ago, letters on the church’s ground-mounted sign were rearranged to spell out a racial slur.

“It’s in the Master’s hands, in God’s hands, but we do need to find out who’s done it,” Moulden said.

Concord AME Zion — which will celebrate 140 years in the community in May — is pursuing additional security measures to protect the church in the future.

Representatives of the churches have contacted insurance companies and the windows ultimately will be replaced, in some cases less than a year after being replaced following the hailstorm last April.

Anyone with information or tips on suspicious activity can call the FBI at 865-544-0751 or KCSO at 865-215-2444.


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