Four crimes within days at two Black churches and a tripped alarm at a third Black church, all located on Fordson Road in Alexandria's Gum Spring Community, looked ominous. The burglaries and property destruction alarmed, confused, and ultimately led Pastors Charles A. Hall of St. John Baptist Church, Reverend Dr. Darrell Keith White of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and Dr. Johnnie L. Abram of Harvest Assembly Baptist Church, as well as Queenie Cox, president of the New Gum Springs Civic Association onto a new path, seeking data sharing between Fairfax County Police Department and the community.
According to Cox, the alleged crime subject made entries and rummaged through St. John Baptist Church items. Nothing appeared to be missing; even offering envelopes with currency were not disturbed. Cox said that police would increase patrols in the Fordson Road area and places of worship within the Mount Vernon Police District.
In a Zoom interview on Friday, May 6, the four provided updated information on the crimes with the goal of getting the facts out to the community along with their vital proposed next steps based on police data sharing.
The pastors emphasized that these were not hate crimes. Each believed just one person was responsible for the destruction of property and burglaries. They had been worried what seemed to be "serial" burglaries might expand to times when staff occupied the churches or private residences, with the possibility that the individual might harm someone if surprised or agitated.
"Everybody told the police, don't shoot," Pastor Abram said.
On Wednesday, April 27, Fairfax County Police received the first incident call. According to Sergeant Tara Gerhard of the Fairfax County Police Department's Public Affairs Bureau, they were contacted at 8:27 a.m. for the destruction of property at 7836 Fordson Road (Bethlehem Baptist Church). Sgt. Gerhard reported that officers responded after a glass door had been damaged overnight. No entry was made.
Shortly after noon on the same day, Wednesday, April 27, at 12:57 p.m., FCPD received its second call concerning another Black church, St. John Baptist Church, located at 7730 Fordson Road. It is within walking distance of Bethlehem Baptist. "The glass on one side of the double-side door of the church was found shattered," Pastor Charles A. Hall of St. John Baptist Church, says.
FCPD responds and discovers that someone forced their way inside the church overnight. Hall said that the person(s) who entered smoked in various parts of the church, opened the refrigerator, ate half of a sweet bun before returning it, and placed their hand on a cake. "When smoking, the person gets a cup of water for the cigarette butts. I guess he didn't want the church to catch on fire," Hall said.
According to Sgt. Gerhard, the Fairfax County Police Department, was called back to 7730 Fordson Road (St. John Baptist Church) the following evening, Thursday, April 27, at 6:27 p.m. for a burglary. This is the third Black church incident. Pastor Hall says, "The other half of the door is broken." He describes how the individual must have gone into the sanctuary this time and smoked there, as cigarette butts are present.
The police report by Sgt. Gerhard reads, "BURGLARY: 7730 Fordson Road, 4/27/22 & 4/28/22, 12:57 p.m. and 6:27 p.m. Officers responded after someone forced entry into the church overnight on two occasions. Nothing was taken."
Pastor Hall said that the congregation prayed at their Sunday service that the person would come back, admit to his actions, and ask for forgiveness. "We didn't add to break in," Hall says.
A few days later, the fourth incident occurred. Sgt. Gerhardt reports, "DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY: 7730 Fordson Road (St. John Baptist Church), 5/5/22, 5:49 p.m. Officers responded after a glass door had been broken sometime in the afternoon. No entry was made."
"From my perspective, this is a person crying out for help," Pastor Hall says on Friday, May 6, in a ZOOM call. He believed the three incidents at St. John Baptist Church and the one at Bethlehem Baptist were the work of the same individual. His concern had been that the individual may harm church workers and others. "God showed us favor in that not happening," Hall said.
The Reverend Dr. Darrell Keith White of Bethlehem Baptist Church said, "Any attempt on any house is a threat to everyone's homes, more so if it is an attempt on the Church of God. Because if anyone feels that they can break into God's house, our own homes are at risk." White's second concern was that the incidents had gone on for over a week. "I don't know if our community has been made aware of this," White said.
In terms of what comes next, Queenie Cox, who organized the pastor's Zoom interview, recommended making public a "Crime Corner," a count and information of incidences in the neighborhood. "Perhaps the police may be a little more forthcoming and give us the information and let us determine whether it is irrelevant," she said.
Pastor Abram pointed out that the system is broken. He said, "Until we get all the data, we're never going to be able to use it. Police got to release the data. We've got to have someone to communicate the data out… Our ability to help the homeless and do a lot of things (depends on this). This may be an opportunity to get this out there."
The pastors said that a person had come forward to authorities, was getting help, and requested that their apology message and ask of forgiveness be shared. The pastors said they heard the person's request and acknowledged it. They also decided not to seek restitution.
What could have been a tragic episode involving a Gum Springs resident did not make the evening news. No one was injured, threatened, or killed by a weapon. The police did not use lethal force killing someone in a mental crisis they considered a viable threat to others or themselves, possibly "suicide by cop." According to Cox, a homeless individual in crisis ultimately sought help at a hospital and is receiving care.
The Gum Springs Community is the oldest African American community in Fairfax County, established in 1833 and continues to thrive with over 2,500 residents, up to 500 direct descendants of the original families.