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Fear won t deter worshippers

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The young man needs help. The church is where you come for help, but he s alienated himself from that now, says the Rev. Thomas Fant, pastor, inside St. Stephen s African Methodist Episcopal Church.

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If the robber had asked, the congregation of St. Stephen s African Methodist Episcopal Church probably would have lent a helping hand.

But since they were forced to give him money while he had a gun pointed at the heads of two young girls, members of the congregation were in a less charitable mood yesterday.

“We re not angry, but we re hurt,” said the Rev. Thomas Fant, pastor of the church for seven years.

“The young man needs help,” Mr. Fant said. “The church is where you come for help, but he s alienated himself from that now. If he would have come and asked, we would have tried to help him.”

On Sunday, just after services ended, a young robber entered the church on City Park Avenue and demanded money.

Twice, the robber grabbed young girls and threatened them with a handgun. He said he would kill one of them if the congregation didn t come up with $500.

Yesterday, Mayor Jack Ford expressed shock over the crime and announced a reward for information leading to the arrest of the robber.

“This crime is totally outrageous,” said Mr. Ford during a news conference yesterday morning. “We want to send a message that crimes like this will not be tolerated.”

Mr. Ford offered a $3,000 award for the suspect. By the time the news conference ended, City Council President Louis Escobar and Councilman Michael Ashford had added $2,000 and $500, respectively.

The panic-filled minutes left the church s congregation anxious but unbowed. Mr. Fant said his church will go on, with Wednesday choir rehearsal and Bible study as scheduled.

The crime, though, drew the anger of Mr. Ford and police Chief Mike Navarre. Chief Navarre promised additional officers at churches and in the neighborhood to discourage similar crimes.

The ski-masked suspect, described as black and in his 20s, wearing a brown coat and tan boots, made the men in the church lie on the floor while he robbed the women. He held a 12-year-old girl hostage and later put his gun to the head of a 9-year-old girl to try to get more money from the congregation.

Those attending the news conference expressed a sense of urgency about capturing the suspect and discouraging crimes against other churches.

WilliAnn Moore, president of ONYX and the Toledo branch of the NAACP, called on neighbors to turn in the robber and not let the crime terrorize citizens.

“The terror alert for our Homeland Security has moved to red,” Mrs. Moore said. “You will not hold our children and our community hostage. If we let this go, we might as well pack our bags and move out.”

Chief Navarre said there will be an increased police presence in the neighborhood and officers will be placed in various churches in the area during services.

Mr. Fant said the two girls involved were not harmed physically. He said the 12-year-old girl is fine but the 9-year-old girl was still a little shaken.

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