EAST ST. LOUIS — More than 25 East St. Louis ministers gathered Tuesday morning to pray that their flocks not be sheared again and plan how to keep the predators away.
Also, in response to the armed robbery of a congregation during worship Sunday, the Greater St. Louis Major Case Squad was activated Tuesday to find the third gunman and help interview the victims.
East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Floore said that means at least another 25 investigators will be working on the case that already landed two suspects in the East St. Louis City Jail.
Ministers met at City Hall to discuss church security after members of the Ira Grove Baptist Church were robbed at gunpoint Sunday. Ideas ranged from putting deacons in neon vests, adding a police presence and installing security lights and cameras.
The Rev. Kendall Granger, of the New Life Community Center, suggested putting deacons in bright vests to act as a deterrent. He also suggested that churches claim blocks and mark them off as "holy ground" with a neighborhood watch set up in that area to report suspicious activity.
The Rev. Joe Tracy said all churches have evening programs and he asked whether East St. Louis auxiliary police could provide security. Floore promised they could.
Some wondered whether they could make a bulk purchase to get discounts on security cameras.
The Rev. Herman L. Watson, of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, said light is a huge deterrent. It looks like daylight outside his church at night, he said.
After the meeting he said he's heard of robberies after services, but was shocked one would happen in a church during services. He said the meeting should have happened long ago.
"The word of God is being fulfilled. We live in perilous times," Watson said.
Jackie Crockett, from Sunlight Missionary Baptist Church, said she was outraged by what transpired.
"I keep hearing cameras this and that," Crockett said. "I am old school. If the few us who are in this room could maybe get a list and commit one person from the church to walk the lots. I am for action today."
She said she was confident East St. Louis police will close the case, but the churches need to help one another starting now.
"Some of us in this room don't know each other. We need to get to know each other and look out for each other's churches," Crockett said.
Willie Chambers and his wife were at the service Sunday when the gunmen stormed into Ira Grove, pointing a gun at the minister's head.
"Two gunmen walked into the church, one walked all of the way to the pulpit. He made everyone get on the floor. He asked for money, cell phones, jewelry and wallets.
"My wallet was stuffed with all kinds of papers. I was working, trying to straighten it out. He took it. He took my ring, my wife's wedding ring and a ring she had on her pinky.
"They were young thugs taking from hard-working poor people," he said.
Chambers was angry that gunmen would violate a church service and upset that the gunmen risked the lives of so many babies and elderly women. He said the trio didn't care they terrified his wife or made his grandchild and others cry.
"I told my wife that from now on, someone will be at that door at every service -- even if it has to be me," he said. "They had guns. It could have turned into something where some people got hurt or killed."
Floore said he was grateful that St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly suggested using the Major Case Squad. He also lauded his department for quickly apprehending two of the three suspects.
Floore put out a call late Tuesday afternoon for victims to go to Ira Grove and be interviewed by investigators. They conducted interviews beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
"We need to know what they saw. They need to tell us what was taken from them and they may be able to identify their property or tell us what the gunmen were wearing. Small details are important for me," Floore said.
Floore told the clergy that they need to be prepared with security.
"Ira Grove Baptist is a small church. If they had been prepared, the gunmen wouldn't have gotten past the front door. You got to put what you got in place. Somebody has to be the watch dog," Floore said.
He said his church, Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, has state-of-the-art cameras but churches can still protect themselves with basic equipment. He said stores sell inexpensive cameras that would capture enough to help police make an arrest.
"I love East St. Louis. I grew up in East St. Louis," Floore said. "I wouldn't want anyone in my family or your family to have to go through what those victims went through while they were attending a worship service."