Any church burglary is bad. But a break-in at the Redeeming Life Christian Center in Rock Hill found Monday by church staff members seems worse.
A cash register was smashed, and money stolen, from a building that in 1954 was the very first integrated school in South Carolina.
The building and the people inside during the days of segregation withstood cross burnings and pickets and threats. But stealing and smashing was not enough, apparently, in 2016. Human waste was left in piles on the floor. Soiled toilet tissue was left behind, as well.
A restroom sits just feet away from the waste.
“I can’t even imagine this type of evil,” said Bishop Eric Gailliard of the church. “This really concerns me. I am still almost in shock.”
Redeeming Life is a predominantly black church – but not all black, with people from across racial lines as part of its congregation. Flags of Central American and South American countries hang over the door next to the American flag.
All are welcome at this holy place.
For more than a decade – in the building at 648 S. Jones Ave. that once housed St. Anne Catholic School which opened its doors to five black children in 1954, breaking the color barrier in the state – the Redeeming Life has done all kinds of outreach including a three-times-a-week food pantry.
With the exception of one theft by a person who had a substance abuse problem a decade ago, the church has not had trouble. Gailliard said he does not know if the church was targeted by vandals, or if the incident was possibly a gang initiation.
“We are a family here and this hurts,” Gailliard said.
In front of the building is a historic marker showing the local, state and national importance of the school in civil rights.
Brother David Boone of the Rock Hill Oratory was part of the first integrated school. Boone was shocked at the crime at the building now used by Redeeming Life for good works.
“Awful, terrible,” Boone said.
Rock Hill Police are investigating the case as a burglary and do not have any evidence that the crime had racial or other hate crime motivations, said the department’s spokesman, Capt. Mark Bollinger. If evidence points toward a potential hate crime, another tangent of the investigation would be opened, Bollinger said.
Forensic technicians took evidence from the crime scene and are working to identify the culprits. A trailer outside the main building had been broken into, where a knife was found. In another area of the main building the broken cash register was grabbed, smashed and left. The human waste was on the floor of a computer lab behind the sanctuary.
Flooring had to be ripped up and the room sterilized. Two doors on a trailer are now locked by barbells of steel.
Gailliard hopes that people in the neighborhood will keep an eye out for the church – and that the sense of shared community and safety is a two-way street.
“We all need to watch out for each other, look out for each other,” Gailliard said.
The church and its members hope the people responsible are found – not so much for punishment, but to offer an open door of guidance. There is no place in the world for defecating on the floor of a church, Gailliard said, and maybe those who did so need something that his church and its people will gladly offer.
“Hope and love,” Gailliard said.