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Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS - As Catholics mark the beginning of Holy Week, police are investigating an alarming crime inside a Lakeview church.

As parishioners headed into Palm Sunday Mass at St. Dominic Church in Lakeview , they reflected on a shocking crime that happened inside earlier this week.

'You would think coming to church you would be safe and to find out that you could be robbed in church is scary,' said parishioner Mary Shales.

Val Cupit, head of Lakeview Crimewatch, said a 72-year-old woman was praying inside around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday when a man came up behind her and demanded cash.

'How dare he come into a sacred place like this and prey on anybody,' said Cupit, who has spoken with the victim at length.

The woman was alone inside the church at the time, while two maintenance men worked outside in the back. Cupit said the victim handed over about $27, never looking in the robbers face.

Shaken, she walked to a clothing store across the street and relayed what happened.

'When she was approached by the store clerk there, 'Is there something I can help you with,' she said, 'Yeah, I'm walking off my fear,' and then she started elaborating,' Cupit said.

Father Michael O'Rourke, pastor of St. Dominic, declined to speak on camera but said the church is looking at installing cameras inside and out. Right now, there are none.

'Of course, now the churches have beefed up their security in the area,' said Cupit.

'You think it would be safe that you could come during the middle of the day and pray, especially during the Lenten season,' said parishioner David Terry. 'I pray for the victim.'

The robber wielded no weapon and the victim wasn't physically harmed. But the idea that, for criminals, no place is sacred, is perhaps the most chilling aspect of all for St. Dominic parishioners.

While the victim didn't see the robbers face, she saw his arms as she handed over the cash, and she did see him walk away.

The suspect is described as a 5'11' black male with a medium build wearing dark clothing. If you have any information, call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.

Police couldn't confirm if they are looking over surveillance video from nearby businesses, or if they have any leads.

Cupit said there was a delay in reporting the crime because a well-meaning store clerk did not report the crime as an emergency to 911 Wednesday. Instead, the clerk called the third district station multiple times before someone answered. According to Cupit, the call was not classified as an emergency, and the victim was told it would be some time before police could arrive.

After learning detectives could not cross parish lines to conduct an interview in her Metairie home, the victim opted to make a police report over the weekend instead.

Cupit doesn't believe police did anything wrong, but advises people to call 911 to report crime, rather than the district station.

Cupit also advises people to travel in groups, even when going to church.

'Obviously, there's no place safe anymore,' said said.

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