JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Instead of getting a plate, a masked thief grabbed a box of money and bolted from a local church dinner.
Jonesboro police say a man walked into the First United Methodist Church in downtown Jonesboro on Wednesday evening and stole a money box containing about $300 in checks and cash.
Church members say they initially thought it was a joke and sat in disbelief for a few moments, which gave the masked man enough time to escape.
No surveillance cameras managed to catch the thief, but more than 100 people saw him commit the crime.
The robbery happened around 6 p.m. while churchgoers were finishing up their weekly meal, which costs each person $5 per plate.
"We have a wonderful woman who takes up the money," said Senior Pastor John Miles. "She told me that this man walked in. He had a hoodie on, and he had his face covered."
The woman said this masked man walked up to her table, shut the money box and then quickly left with it in hand through an exterior door to Union Street.
"I didn't think anything of it," said Pastor Miles, who turned around in time to see the man run out the door. "Then, gradually, people started standing up, and we all began to realize, including the lady with the cash, that he wasn't coming back. This wasn't a prank that he'd actually stolen our money. He'd stolen our lunch money, you know."
Witnesses told Jonesboro police that the man ran out the building and disappeared after crossing Union Street into the nearby neighborhoods.
Church members and police searched unsuccessfully for the suspect, whom witnesses describe as a "very skinny" white man last seen wearing a navy or black hooded sweatshirt with either "an undershirt pulled up over his face, just above his nose, or a surgical mask."
Pastor Miles suspects the church had likely helped the man in the past because he obviously knew where the money would be.
He says the church can easily recoup the estimated $300 that was taken. The money collected usually covers the cost of the meal that the church members enjoy each Wednesday night.
Once the initial shock passed, the church carried on its Bible study Wednesday as planned.
"It was funny," the pastor said. "One of the scriptures in our Bible, it was the old passage that there is no peace for the wicked. I said, you know, he's got his own punishment even though we didn't catch him. He's been caught."
Miles says the church is now reviewing its security systems and may add extra lights and cameras to its facilities.
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 870-935-STOP.