Homeless shelter resident suspected in Aspen church theft
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
ASPEN ” Aspen police are investigating the recent theft of $5,000 worth of equipment as well as irreplaceable artifacts from the Community United Methodist Church in Aspen.
Police believe the culprit is one of the 10 homeless people who was staying at the temporary homeless shelter at the Bleeker Street church on Friday night.
Shelter staff (including an overnight shelter manager) and a yoga teacher setting up for a Saturday morning class discovered the jimmied office door and missing items.
While Pastor Jane Keener-Quiat wasn’t happy about losing pricey equipment such as a laptop computer and a projector, she said she mostly was troubled by the disappearance of a safety box containing photographs, articles and church memorabilia dating back to its founding in 1890.
Unless someone is arrested in the matter, the temporary shelter will not be welcome at the church, Keener-Quiat said.
“It’s very frustrating,” Keener-Quiat said. “We want to care for the community and we want to help those in need, unless they’re going to take advantage of us.”
Police have a list of people who were sleeping in the shelter that night, and Aspen officer Matt Burg said it’s likely that someone jimmied open the office door, stole the items and spirited them off somewhere else before returning to the shelter.
No one was reported missing at the morning wake-up call at the shelter, Burg said, and the same group of shelter residents was all there the following evening.
The incident still is under investigation and Burg is processing evidence.
Burg asked residents to keep an eye out for a handful of items the thief might be selling, including an Asus laptop, a 17-inch LCD monitor, a Mitsubishi projector, a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse, a Microsoft wireless keyboard, a wireless microphone, a Panasonic cordless phone and the small gray vault containing the historic documents and church photos.
Burg believes the items were carted away in large, green plastic containers, also taken from the office.
“We’ve lost a lot of pictures and newspaper articles … all the way back through the church’s history,” Keener-Quiat said. “I’d say the pictures were the most critical thing.”
“It’s just very disappointing,” said Brad Osborn, director of the Right Door and a member of the Aspen Homeless coalition, which supports the shelter. “It really kind of sets us back with our options to house the shelter.”
Osborn said he understands if church officials no longer want homeless people staying at the church, and if that happens, the temporary shelter will close early this year.
The shelter, which was housed at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen from November to the end of March, was more or less trouble-free throughout the winter, Osborn said.
“We’ve had a few behavior problems, it’s usually around alcohol, but nothing like this,” Osborn said. “Somebody planned it. It’s not like it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”
Keener-Quiat is frustrated that the Community Church, which for years was left open as a refuge, first had to be locked because of reports of people smoking inside and now has lost important pieces of church heritage because of the recent theft.
“Our request is that we can find these things,” Keener-Quiat said. “We’re really asking for help from the community.”
The pastor believes that the thief likely tossed away the worthless box of photos and articles the church considers priceless.
Burg asked that anyone with information about the incident or who has found any of the missing items contact the Aspen police at 920-5400.
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