Man living in sanctuary at Durham church targeted by thieves -- three times

May 8, 2019

A man living in sanctuary at a Durham Church is now the victim of multiple crimes, and the church’s pastor is in disbelief that someone so vulnerable would be targeted.

Jose Chicas, a pastor from El Salvador, has been living in a home on the property of St. John’s Baptist Church for two years to avoid deportation.

Now, he no longer feels safe there.

“I no sleep and feel good because I (am) scared,” he said. “I (am) scared maybe he (is) coming back.”

Chicas says thieves visited his back porch three different times in recent weeks. The first time the thieves stole a pressure washer that Chicas uses to wash cars.

After the first pressure washer was stolen, Chicas made a change and installed a surveillance camera.

The camera caught two men on video, stealing a second pressure washer.

“You can see two people walk up, and clearly they know where they’re going,” said Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, the church’s minister. “They have a plan for what they’re going to do.”

Wilson-Hartgrove, says to steal the second pressure washer, the thieves cut through a lock.

They returned again and stole a leaf blower.

“They’ve targeted a very vulnerable person, and I want to say that as clearly as we can,” the minister said.

The policy of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy is to not make arrests on church property, and if Chicas leaves he could be deported.

So the pressure washing machines were his only source of income.

He used them to clean cars in the parking lot, to support his family.

“I have my kids,” he said. “Four kids. I help to pay the rent to my house.”

Chicas hopes the surveillance footage will help identify the two men in the surveillance video so he can get his livelihood back -- and his sense of security.

Said Wilson-Hartgrove: “So, we’re really asking the community to help us make this a safe place by doing everything that we can to figure out who these people are.” Chicas says he’s not sure if he was targeted because he’s in sanctuary, but he does believe whomever stole from him knew those pressure washing machines were there.