Men arrested in string of church burglaries in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks counties

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Two men have been arrested and charged in connection with the burglaries of 10 churches in Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, officials said.

Gabriel Minnick, 21, and Semaj Howard, 20, both of Philadelphia, have been charged with multiple counts felony burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, criminal trespass, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, institutional vandalism, criminal mischief and multiple misdemeanors. Minnick is also charged with dealing in unlawful proceeds.

Between Feb. 20 and March 17, 2020, multiple churches in Abington, Upper Moreland, Lower Moreland, Cheltenham, Lower Southampton, Upper Southampton and Philadelphia suffered separate but similar burglaries, officials said.

The churches were broken into overnight, typically through a window accessible from the ground, police said. The burglars stole precious metals, safes, petty cash, televisions and other electronics.

Through the use of video surveillance, investigators said one of the burglars was wearing "distinctive clothing" and the other had a heart-shaped tattoo under his eye and a unique scar on his eyebrow.

In the course of the investigation, authorities also found evidence linking the defendants to three stolen vehicles including a 2018 Hyundai Elantra, 2010 Ford Escape and a Nissan Maxima. Authorities said the men established online accounts to sell the stolen merchandise, including selling a Hyundai Elantra "for parts."

"Our churches do an extraordinary amount of good in our communities. To steal from and damage a church is reprehensible. It's an egregious crime against the entire community," said District Attorney Kevin Steele.

Minnick and Lukens are being held at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. on July 15.

The case will be prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Scott Frank Frame and Tanner Beck.
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