JEFFERSON, La. - It's a place where people should feel safe. But a series of recent church burglaries on the West Bank has parishioners on edge.
Dottie Manieri has been part of St. Martha Catholic Church in Harvey for more than a decade. She serves as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.
And when a couple found her in a small back room after Ash Wednesday's service and asked for ashes, she thought nothing of it.
“I prayed the Lord’s prayer. They didn’t pray with me,” said Manieri. “As soon as I finished with the ashes, the gentleman started saying, ‘I need some water, I need some water.’”
Manieri left the room to get water, then the couple left. That’s when she realized her purse was missing.
“They had keys to my house, my car, check book, credit cards, my health cards,” said Manieri, who has since changed her locks and canceled her credit cards.
But what's more, Manieri said, the couple stole some irreplaceable photos, and her sense of safety in a place of worship.
“It was a day that should have been a holy day and it ended up being a day that was filled with fear,” said Manieri.
But that's not only church that was hit on the West Bank. Just the day before, on Fat Tuesday, the couple stole a wallet at St. John Bosco Roman Catholic Church, also in Harvey, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Parishioners say the couple entered a small prayer chapel at St. John Bosco, and the female asked for help lighting a candle. Shortly after, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office said, the parishioner who helped realized her wallet was missing.
Investigators say Immaculate Conception Church in Marrero was hit twice last year. An unknown black man stole a purse in November, said JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato.
Then, days after Christmas, a black man stole a music speaker, then made off in a black SUV, said Fortunato. Detectives believe the suspect pawned the speaker the same day. And they believe he may be connected to the other burglaries.
“I've forgiven them. I've asked that they get an inspiration from the Lord to rectify the life that they're leading,” said Manieri.
Manieri said both she and her church have become more vigilant and she hopes deputies catch the suspects before they strike again.
The couple is described as African American in their late 30s or 40s with an average build, possibly driving a black SUV.
The woman has a reddish afro hairstyle, said Manieri.
If you have any information that could help investigators, call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.