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Suspects in church burglaries arrested

Four of the nine suspects in recent burglaries of Panola County churches have been arrested, and Sheriff’s deputies are searching for the others.

Detective Chantryce Morris headed the investigation into the string of break-ins, mostly at rural churches where services have been postponed, or held sporadically, during the pandemic. Morris, who usually investigates sex crimes for the Sheriff’s Office, said a tip from an alert citizen helped break the case.

“Panola County is so large with so many small churches it was impossible for us to guess where the suspects would hit next,” Morris said. “When we got a phone call from a concerned citizen, and then talked to other people in the community we got the list of suspects.

Arrested, and charged with grand larceny and burglary Karishma Duncan, Eddie Porter, Jeremy Turner, and Daryl Lewis. Morris said all the suspects are from Panola County. They will make a first appearance in Justice Court this week.

Sheriff Shane Phelps said pastors from the targeted churches reported a variety of stolen items including stoves, mowers, trimmers, wall heaters, and similar items. Phelps said anyone who has purchased things from individuals unaware they were stolen items should contact his office immediately to help close the case.

Phelps said the case is an example of law enforcement and the community working together to solve a crime. “Our deputies simply can not watch every business and residence in Panola County all day and night. It’s so important for citizens to communicate with investigators to stop these kinds of crimes.”

“I can’t stress enough how important it is for citizens to just pick up the phone and let us know when something is not right,” he said. “It helps everybody and in this case Detective Morris was able have good communication with the community and started making arrests right after that.”

Burglaries of residences and businesses in rural Panola County plagued the Sheriff’s Office in 2020 with dozens of ATV’s, lawn equipment, utility trailers, and other property stolen from locations around the county.

Deputies made several arrests in the fall which seemed to significantly slow the reports of stolen property in the county. Phelps said he believes the department effectively broke up two rings of crooks who had been operating in Panola County.

In the church burglary cases, Morris said the churches with reported burglaries included Mt. Evia, New Hope M.B., Cotton Plant M.B., Cortland Church of Christ, Shiloh M.B., Chapel Hill, Antioch, Rock Hill, and Johnson Chapel.

Phelps and Morris said Crenshaw Police Chief AdrianKirkwood, who also works with the Sheriff’s Office, was instrumental in putting the pieces together to identify the suspects and, hopefully, end the rash of church burglaries.