EAST ST. LOUIS, IL. (KTVI) – Police appeared to be closing in on the lead suspect in a frightening East St. Louis church robbery.
Investigators said three young men barged into a Sunday music service, stole the church members’ and their guests` watches, cell phones, and money, around 5:00 p.m. Sunday at the Ira Grove Freewill Baptist Church at 17th and Belmont.
Police had two suspects in custody: Howard Dotson, 17, and Rufus Thomas, 20.
That last suspect was known to hang around with them.
Police said he was around 20 years old; he was the only one known to have had a gun for certain.
Major Case Squad investigators were at the church meeting with robbery victims hoping to turn up more clues.
‘We were having a good time, a hallelujah good time,’ church member Mary White said, describing the incident.
‘All of the sudden, this young man, he comes walking up through the door,’ said church guest, Orlando McGill, known affectionately as ‘Brother Love’.
‘3 guys came in. They had masks on their faces,’ White said.
‘He pulled up his arm and pulled up the gun and cocked it right here. He walked over here…he had the gun pointed at me like this. He walked up the ramp into the pulpit, told me to get down the floor. And he said, `this is a stickup`,’ McGill said.
He hit the floor near the pulpit; expecting to die; praying to live.
‘I said, `in the name of Jesus. I rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus. Let that devil get out of here and go`. I was pleading to the blood of Jesus,’ McGill said.
‘I know that God has our backs. I know that. You don`t just defile the house of God and think you can get away with it,’ White said.
‘If you`re going to come to church you come for 2 things: you come to be saved or help save somebody,’ said Pastor Henry C. Jones.
He said there were more than 100 people in the church, including ‘brother love`s’ wife and three children; worshiping through music.
Investigators asked them to come back, looking for details that might lead to the gunman; most saw little, ordered to the floor as they were robbed.
But prayers were answered – not one shot was fired. No one was hurt.
‘I`m not mad at them. I pray that god saves them. I love them. I forgive them,’ McGill said of the suspects.
‘Christ has placed something into my heart. I could not do anything else but reach out to him,’ Pastor Jones said of the gunman.
‘Everybody walked out. You might have been light a ring, or light a watch, or light a few dollars, but you walked out like you walked in,’ White smiled.
Police believed the gun used was a revolver, as opposed to a semi-automatic handgun, like a 9mm. That clue could help narrow the field of suspects.
If you have any information, call the East St. Louis Police Department.