Church members spent the weekend cleaning up broken glass and smashed shutters after vandals struck the historic Strawberry Chapel in Cordesville.
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Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office: 843-723-3800, ext. 4424
Crime Stoppers: 843- 554-1111
Glass was strewn on the inside and outside of the chapel on Saturday night when the vestry’s members arrived. Dr. Richard Ball, the vestry’s member for buildings and grounds, got the call from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office.
Ball, his sister and his son stayed that night at the chapel, which overlooks the Cooper River deep in Berkeley County, until about midnight cleaning up the mess.
They found a shutter nearly ripped from its hinges and smashed, a broken window, items missing from inside the church and damaged tombstones, according to Ball. An aluminum ladder and some tools were stolen from inside the chapel, Ball said.
“We suspect the vandals are there because they don’t care and simply want to create havoc,” he said.
Sheriff’s Capt. Rick Ollic said an active investigation into the vandalism is underway. No arrests have been made.
It’s not the first time the 300-year-old chapel has been the target of vandals, or the second or even the third time.
“It happens often but this is some of the worst vandalism we’ve seen in recent memory,” Ball said.
Over the years, there have been a handful of incidents of bullet holes, smashed tombstones and windows, doors beaten with axes, a 2-foot-thick brick-and-mortar wall broken through and obelisks toppled over.
In 2009, five young people broke into the church and smashed out windows. It was one of six vandalism incidents between 2008 and 2009, according to the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office records.
Some of those incidents included desecrating tombstones, prying apart window shutters and pulling loose steel guard bars on the windows.
When asked why Ball thinks the chapel is a common target, he said, “God only knows.”
Ball and others have done everything they can think of, minus leaving a rabid dog to keep watch of the chapel, Ball joked.
“All doors are locked and have steel bars on the doors and windows,” he said.
Ball said he’d like to see more law enforcement activity out there. Sheriff’s officials said the chapel is on the list of regular patrols and is checked frequently.
The chapel doesn’t hold services every Sunday. Only four services a year are held there.
The chapel was built in 1725, and the only additions to the structure have been electricity, wood replacement due to termite damage and a new roof. “Hence, the church has limited resources,” he said.
Ball said the timing of this vandalism couldn’t have been worse for the chapel.
The vestry is offering a reward in the thousands of dollars for information leading to an arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the recent vandalism.
Church leaders estimate the expenses from vandalism over the past few years has cost between $50,000 to $100,000.
Ollic said this incident is similar to some in the past and asks anyone with information to contact the sheriff’s office or offer an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.