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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Jesus icons stolen from Newell, a church's nativity now set on fire

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Scrooge has struck Newell with a vengeance, and locals are treating a series of crimes against church nativity scenes as a sad act of terrorism.

The latest incident nearly burned down a landmark church.

Last year, three different Newell churches had figures of baby Jesus stolen and nativity scenes vandalized.

Last Friday night, the case became more serious, as someone set the nativity scene at the Congregational Church on fire.

Newell Police Chief Wayne Westergaard said that a passer-by stopped at his house around 9 p.m. to ask if he knew that the scene was on fire. Westergaard grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran a block to the church - on the way, he heard the Fire Department being paged as well.

"When I got there it was blazing pretty hard, if it had gone on for very long the church could have been burned," the chief said. The blaze was extinguished, with only some smoke damage to the church building. Parts of the stable and the hay bales of the nativity scene were burned. The only clue on the scene was a set of matches from a nearby convenience store.

Cindy Melhon, financial director for the Congregational Church, said, "The nativity pieces were untouched and the scene will remain out. This is terrorism and we can't let them win."

New hay bales were brought in to cover up the fire-damaged areas. The figure of the baby Jesus was put into safekeeping, and to be put out only for Christmas.

Chief Westergaard said that an investigation is being still being conducted. The vandal faces charges if caught and convicted, and Westergaard said his department is taking the incidents very seriously.

The churches however, are taking the crimes personally.

Last year, St. Peter's Lutheran had the Jesus from its nativity scene stolen. As the scene was a one-of-a-kind display made by a previous pastor and his wife, it has been impossible to replace.

The Methodist Church's Jesus figure was also stolen last year at Christmastime, and was never recovered. Church leaders made the decision to replace the figure and to keep putting the nativity scene up for the holidays despite the crimes.

The Congregational church was hit last year as well. The Jesus figure and one of a camel were stolen.

A member of the congregation was later driving on a rural gravel road, and spotted something unusual laying in a shallow creek. Upon investigation, it turned out to be the Baby Jesus figure. It was cleaned up and returned to the church for its nativity. The other missing figure has never been recovered.

Members of the congregation are upset, wondering what kind of a person or persons would repeatedly attack religious Christmas scenes in the small community.

The church's damaged nativity scene has great meaning to them, as it was donated for a member of the church who has passed away. The woman's husband had worked with church leaders to locate just the right set, at a cost of several thousand dollars. The scene is insured, but pieces are nearly impossible to replace at any price.

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