MIAMI — "Someone will come forward with information. This young man couldn't have kept this kind of information to himself," said Miami Police Chief John Timoney.
The young man referenced in Timoney's statement is the suspect in what the Liberty City community refers to as one of the most "vile and cruel" acts against any place of worship.
Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church, at 5942 Northwest 12th Avenue, was not only the scene of a dangerous robbery, but also a burglary–both within a week’s span.
The first incident on Monday, Aug. 24th happened when eight senior citizens in an evening church meeting were interrupted by a young man toting a black revolver. He instructed them to lie down on the ground and give up their possessions.
After robbing the victims, the suspect pointed the gun at senior pastor the Rev. Douglas Cook and demanded the keys to his 2005 green Lincoln Town Car.
"He put the gun over my head and told me not to look up," Cook said. "I just laid there and prayed while my congregation was being robbed."
The suspect is described by police as a black male between the ages of 17 and 20, approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall, and weighing around 170 pounds.
A second incident at the church happened the following Monday, Aug. 31, when an unknown person broke into the church's side entrance and ransacked the executive office, stealing a computer, a fax machine and other miscellaneous items.
On Friday, Aug. 28, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle held a press conference at Jordan Grove, uniting community leaders such as Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, other pastors and representatives from People United to Lead the Struggle for Equity, or P.U.L.S.E.
They made a public plea for any information leading to an arrest in the first incident.
"We are standing up and uniting to ask the community for help," Fernandez-Rundle said. "This crime will not go unsolved."
At the press conference, Cook proudly told the media, church members and other Liberty City residents that the police had recovered the vehicle and were dusting it for prints and DNA.
Commissioner Edmonson, who grew up near the church, said the criminal act was "totally unacceptable," and the urban community's attitude about being considered a "snitch" needs to be rectified.
"The ‘No Snitch'mentality only brings about more violence," Edmonson said.
She urged Liberty City residents to help with the investigation in any way they can—even utilizing the Hotspots program as an alternative. The program allows residents to anonymously report any type of criminal activity through the use of a postage-paid postcard that is sent to P.U.L.S.E. for correspondence with police.
The Hotspots program was adopted by Miami-Dade County, but started as a Miami City Commission District 5 project under the leadership of Spence-Jones. The commissioner will further promote the use of the program through an upcoming marketing blitz tentatively scheduled for later this month, where bus benches throughout her district will be used as a visual signage for Hotspots.
"Rev. Cook has always been there whenever anything has gone down in Liberty City," Spence-Jones said at the press conference. "For someone to be bold enough to come inside a church and rob the senior pastor is ridiculous. We need make this our mission and create a unified effort to end the violence. Stop talking, let's do something."
The Miami Police Department is taking a pro-active approach to decreasing criminal activity in the area. Major Roy Brown of the Model City district told the South Florida Times that although he does not think the crimes are related, the focus of his unit will be the reduction of overall crime through various tactics and outreach efforts.
"The Miami Police Department employs a number of strategies designed to address crime in Model City," Brown said. "As to the incidents at Jordan Grove, we've contacted the churches in the area and obtained service and meeting dates and times. This information is being given to the zone officer who will make period checks at the locations within his/her zone."
Brown further stated that the police department did a comprehensive security survey at Jordan Grove and made recommendations designed to upgrade security.
"We are offering this service to all business and churches in the area. We are aggressively pursuing leads that will lead to the apprehension of the offenders of both crimes," Brown said.
"Citizens cannot stand idle and wait until it happens to them, [they need to] report crime to the police," said Brown. "The 'No-Snitch' mentality has crippled this community. Criminals are getting away with murder and we need total involvement. Crime is not just a police problem, it's a community problem."
At a worship service on Sept. 4, hundreds of Jordan Grove members and supporters gathered to pay homage to Cook and to unite in seeking an arrest.
"We are not here to preach or have a sermon," said Bishop Victor Curry, Senior Pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. "We are here to show love to this congregation and to help them recover some of the financial losses they have taken as a result of this incident."
Curry, who also used his radio station, WMBM, as a means of reaching out to the community, collected financial contributions from other pastors who participated in the worship service, including the Rev. Gaston Smith of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Carl Johnson of the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church and the Rev. Dr. Billy Strange of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church.
After explaining to the congregation that the unexpected security/surveillance studies and upgrades needed to ensure the safety of the congregation significantly impacted Jordan Grove's budget, Curry turned to the community for assistance.
"More work needs to be done to this church," Curry said. "We're not going to let the enemy know all our plans, but this church will be safe and we are joining together to make sure it happens. My fellow pastors and I are starting off this party with a donation of $3,000."
Over the Labor Day weekend, Jordan Grove received additional financial support from anonymous donors, as well as from Opa-Locka Mayor Joseph Kelly and Commissioner Edmonson.
Anyone with information about the two incidents at Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church is asked to call Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 305-471-8477.
Photo: Miami Police Chief John Timoney