Pastor says he subdued church burglar, then prayed
A Center Moriches pastor in the middle of a weeklong fast prayed for two things as he struggled with a burglar: strength to hold the man for police, and divine help for someone desperate enough to steal from a church.
"I'm not sure if the police are coming or not, so I just started to tell him we loved him and God loved him," Pastor Michael Jankowski of Lamb's Chapel on Frowein Road recalled Friday.
"I said there was a different way to live. He didn't have to live this way -- that there was hope for him. And he was crying and shouting that he wanted to die."
Jankowski, who discovered the masked intruder inside his 400-member church before dawn on Thursday, managed to tackle the suspect -- using his 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame -- and call 911.
Then came the impromptu sermon.
"I prayed over him -- loud," the pastor said. "I had a captive audience . . . I was saying, 'God, just help him,' and then I was just praying for strength because I was feeling like I couldn't hold on much longer."
Jankowski, 49, said he was relieved to see the headlights of approaching police cars.
Seventh Precinct police arrested Brian Cook, 43, of East Setauket, who is charged with third-degree burglary. Cook was arraigned Friday, and bail was set at $5,000.
Jankowski said Thursday's break-in was similar to a burglary at the church six weeks ago, when someone kicked in a glass door, ransacked offices and hauled off valuables using an office garbage pail. Suffolk County police said Friday they have not linked the burglaries.
But the pastor is convinced that a higher power is at work.
"As a congregation, we had prayed that whoever it was that had broken into this place that . . . maybe they would come back and we could help them, minister to them, because we knew that to break into a church you're pretty much hitting bottom," Jankowski said.
The nondenominational congregation had set aside this week for fasting and community outreach "to those that are hurting," he said.
Jankowski said he came to the church on Thursday, arriving shortly before a 6 a.m. prayer session, and saw that the bottom of a glass door had been broken out -- the same door that had been smashed in the prior burglary.
He said he heard a noise in the parish office and went to investigate.
"I turned on the light and he was sitting right there," Jankowski said, pointing at the desk where his wife, Kim, was sitting Friday.
"He was rifling through the desk, and the place was completely trashed," the pastor said. "He had a black coat on, black hoodie and ski mask. All I could see was his eyes -- and black leather gloves. He jumped up and screamed. I screamed, because it startled both of us."
The intruder ran for another glass exit door as Jankowski grabbed the man by the jacket, using his free hand to call 911 on his cellphone.
He put the phone on speaker and shouted instructions at the 911 operator as he struggled to subdue the burglar.
Jankowski said he is pressing charges but hopes the suspect can put any time behind bars to good use.
"I feel that whatever time he serves he can get help and come out a different man, and it's a home run for everybody."