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Burglary suspect charged

A transient man police believe may have been involved in a string of 10 church burglaries this summer was caught in the act, according to Oak Harbor Police Det. Carl Seim.

In response to church burglaries starting in late June, Officer Larry Ferguson was assigned special detail dedicated to checking area churches. Early in the morning of July 31, Ferguson was checking the Assembly of God Church on SW Third Avenue, which had been burglarized twice. As he pointed his flashlight along the back of the building, he saw a suspicious lump in the grass.

The lump, which starting moving, turned out to be 19-year-old Oak Harbor resident Christopher Nielsen, according to Ferguson’s report. The young man had a backpack containing tools “consistent with performing burglaries,” the officer wrote, which included bolt cutters, wire cutters and a flashlight.

Nielsen told officers that he was not involved in the burglaries. He said he was walking to a friend’s house and cut through the church property when he was stopped, according to the report.

Seim said police arrested Nielsen on suspicion of trespassing and released. He was re-arrested on Aug. 3 after police linked him to a couple of church burglaries, Seim said. Police searched him and found methamphetamines, as well as two keys that were stolen from the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church during a July 26 burglary, the report states.

Prosecutor charged Nielsen in Island County Superior Court Aug. 5 with two counts of burglary in the second degree, possession of methamphetamine and two counts of theft in the third degree. He pleaded not guilty Aug. 13.

Nielsen is accused of breaking into the Assembly of God and the Lutheran churches on two different occasions and stealing a jar of coins, a safe and a set of keys, according to Seim

Seim said that investigators have linked Nielsen to at least four of the burglaries and they are waiting for lab results on fingerprints and other evidence in order to determine if he was involved in the others.

Cash and small items, such as a video game and a small DVD player, were stolen from the churches. Seim said Nielsen probably broke into churches because they can be easy targets.

“I guess when you are transient, you get pretty desperate,” Seim said. He noted that church burglaries have stopped since Nielsen was arrested.

If convicted of the charges against him, Nielsen could face more than four years in prison.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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