Theft disrupts church services Sunday

Published 5:14 pm Monday, December 5, 2011

Worshipers at Flomaton’s Church of Christ may have one more thing to add to their prayer list after a Flomaton man snatched the purse of a member Sunday evening.

Andy Cumbie, 30, faces robbery and theft charges after he reportedly entered the church just as services were beginning Sunday evening.

Flomaton Police Chief Geoff McGraw said church members were stunned when the incident took place.

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“The congregation was just beginning services with opening prayer when the suspect grabbed a purse and ran out the door,” McGraw said. “The victim’s husband quickly followed and tried to retrieve the purse from the suspect. The suspect struggled with the victim’s spouse and threw him to the ground.”

Although no one was hurt in the incident, McGraw said there was a threat to the safety of the congregation.

“Some of the members of the church went out to try and help in the situation,” McGraw said. “The suspect told the people ‘I have a gun – back up’ and they complied.”

As the suspect drove from the scene, McGraw said his department was summoned for assistance in the situation.

“The people there gave us a good description of the suspect and the vehicle he drove away in,” McGraw said. “From the information they gave us, we had a good idea who the suspect was.”

McGraw said officers went to Cumbie’s home to question him about the incident.

“We knew he matched the description and eyewitnesses told us they were 98 percent sure that’s who it was,” McGraw said. “When we searched his vehicle and his house, we were able to find evidence that he was responsible for the taking the purse.”

Larry White, a member of the congregation, said he wasn’t aware anything had taken place until he heard the victim scream.

“We were just having our opening prayer, which was about 10 minutes into the service,” White said. “The victim said the man (suspect) had come into the church and sat down on the back pew opposite from her and her husband. Just as the prayer began, the man jumped up and across the aisle, grabbed the purse and bolted for the door.”

White said he and other members of the congregation left the church behind the suspect in an effort to recover the purse and stop the suspect.

“We were able to get a good look at him and his car to give to police,” White said. “The police responded quickly and were able to get the lady’s purse back to her.”

White said the experience was unsettling for him and other members of the congregation.

“After he was gone and things settled down we reconvened the services,” White said. “When you go to church though, you think because it is a place of worship that you everything is secure. When that security it shaken, it’s unnerving to know that your place of worship has been violated.”

Although the incident was traumatic for the victim and others in the congregation, White said they have much to be thankful for in the incident.

“We didn’t have anyone injured or harmed,” White said. “That’s a blessing. And, I can’t say enough about how quickly and how well the Flomaton Police handled everything. We are certainly thankful for their work. Within an hour and a half, they had him in custody and everything was under control.”

Cumbie was transported to the Escambia County Detention Center where he was booked on one count of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree theft of property. No information on bond was available Monday evening.