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‘Things are back to normal’ as Morgan inmates repair vandalized Somerville church

By Wes Tomlinson

For the Enquirer

This past Wednesday, several inmates from the Morgan County Jail shook hands with deacon Curtis Burton and entered the century-old St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church to finish repairing damage from vandalism allegedly caused by five juveniles this past month.

“Today we are installing ceiling fans and doing some trim painting,” explained Steven Wallace, one of the inmates helping to restore the church. “The last two times we were up here, we helped put in windows and cleaned red paint out of the baptismal font with acetone.”

The inmates have whitewashed the walls of the sanctuary to cover up multiple vulgar messages allegedly written by vandals.

Lt. Danny Kelso supervised the inmates Wednesday and credited Morgan County residents for supporting the church.

“We had a person from the community that donated a piano,” Kelso said.

Kelso said when Sheriff Ron Puckett heard about the vandalism, he took it personally.

“He came up here Saturday to paint and brought his own paintbrush and tools,” Kelso said.

The Burton family was the first of the congregation to witness the damage, and Lynette Burton, the deacon’s daughter, said the church has raised more than $20,000 since then in community donations.

Burton said she had a personal connection to three of the juvenile suspects and actually intervened on one juvenile’s behalf during a previous encounter with police after a trailer fire.

“(The juvenile) was acting disorderly and cussing really loud, so the police officer on scene put him in handcuffs,” Burton said.

She asked the officer if she could speak with the young man.

“I called him by his first name and I said, ‘Son, I want you to apologize to these police,’” Burton said. “He was devastated, and I understood that, but we called the cops over, and he apologized.”

Burton said she has worked over the years through nonprofits to provide assistance to poverty-stricken children and families, including at one point providing a stove and vehicle battery to the family of one of the five juveniles who allegedly damaged her church.

“The mother needed a stove, and their stepfather needed a battery for his vehicle,” Burton said. “I said meet me at Craig’s Battery (in Decatur), and I will buy you a battery for your car.”

She said she has not heard from any of the juveniles since the vandalism. The parents of two have contacted her.

“They reached out, but I really couldn’t reply because the investigation was still ongoing,” Burton said. “One of the parents even offered to come up to the church and help clean, but Puckett and the inmates were already on top of it.”

She said the church has held two Sunday services since the vandalism. “Things are back to normal now,” Burton said.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office has turned the juveniles over to the juvenile court system.

“Because it’s juvenile, it’s operated differently than a normal arrest,” said Mike Swafford, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “All the paperwork has been given to the juvenile probation folks, and it’s currently going through the juvenile courts.”

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