That isn’t a train rumbling through Carbon. It’s the sound of Norman Rockwell rolling over in his grave, and many wonder whether a way of life is over for good.

Nearly a week after three churches and a home were robbed in the northern Clay County town of Carbon, authorities still are looking for leads. Residents are shaking their heads, but not as much out of disbelief as wonderment at where this is heading.

“It’s been going on all summer long,” said to Debbie Hall, owner of the C,6 Bar less than a block from the Carbon United Methodist Church, one of three houses of worship that was violated.

Hall’s business was robbed multiple times in May, June and July. She said her brother’s house was also robbed on a separate occasion, and the thieves took two piggy banks, a sum of cash and a 5-pound bag of sugar.

“Why would people steal a bag of sugar?” she asked.

But it’s just that level of senselessness that has many puzzled.

Deputy Jerry Siddons of the Clay County Sheriff’s Department reported the investigation is ongoing and evidence is being gathered, but said he didn’t think the individuals were necessarily after money.

The break-ins, which occurred sometime between the midnight Nov. 10 and services that Sunday morning, cost the churches an assortment of videos, dvds and a dvd player.

The biggest loss was the destruction of a Bible more than 140 years old.

“I feel bad about the Bible from the 1860s. That’s not something you can find a replacement for,” Siddons said.

But some townsfolk disagree about the motives. Carbon resident Tom Owen said without question that the issue is drug-related.

“It’s all about dope,” he said. “I don’t want to lay it all off on the kids, because there are some good kids around here, but the dope is bad.”

One of Owen’s sons was invited to participate in an unrelated robbery where the juveniles were after copper wiring. Fortunately, he declined. His stepson was not so wise and is currently in the Clay County Justice Center for a completely different break-in at the town’s Post Office.

Despite these relationships, Owen’s own house has been burglarized and he doesn’t see an end in sight to the criminal activity.

Ray Head, a lifelong area resident and manager of the C,6, pointed out that scrap metal prices are up right now, pawn shops buy videos, and that it is, in fact, cheaper to cook methamphetamine than it is to buy alcohol or other drugs. Unfortunately, the violent energy produced by a meth high is much different than that found in drunks.

“I’ve had to throw guys out of here who’ve been on meth,” he said. “You have to bang their head against the bar a few times. On a normal person, it would only take once,” he joked.

Hall remembers a time when no one locked their door in Carbon, while Head wonders if it’s not somehow related to the shooting at Van Buren Elementary School last month. Maybe not the same people, but certainly the same mentality and culture.

But, when asked, no one in Carbon knew about the issues facing Center Point, a similar-sized Clay County town just as far south as Carbon is north.

“It’s been pretty quiet lately,” said Karen Stearley, owner of Stearley’s Hardware on the Main Street of Center Point. “We haven’t had any break-ins lately.”

But, when asked to define “lately,” Stearley said, “none this week.”

The most recent attempt on the family-owned business was in fact last week and came from the front, right on the Main Street.

Stearley’s family tree is as deeply rooted in the area as Clay County is old, and the store she owns was formerly owned by her late father, Glen.

“I’m just grateful they don’t tear things up and no one got hurt,” she said, adding that “candy and cigarettes” are the biggest targets.

“Most people around here just chalk it up to local kids,” she said, clearly more concerned that no one gets hurt than with the specific damages. “One of the kids that broke in one time is on home detention now just down the street,” she said, pointing out the neighbor’s house.

But all the same, on the front of her store — as on the front of other stores and in the Center Point branch of Riddell National Bank, which staved off a botched robbery attempt in June — there hangs a bright yellow poster with the word “Reward” in large, bold print.

The Rural Electrical Cooperative is currently offering $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals responsible for the theft of copper from the Stearleyville substation in October.

Those in Center Point asked about Carbon’s issues knew of the church robberies, but like their northern neighbors, they didn’t know about the similar complaints in a town roughly eight miles away.

Gloria Kruzan, postmaster of Carbon, said even a week later, people still are asking her about the churches.

“Customers have come in wanting to know what’s going on,” she said. “They are concerned.”

The Carbon Church of the Nazarene and the Carbon United Methodist Church as well as “the little historic church of Carbon” all were victimized last weekend, and Kruzan said people “especially couldn’t understand the break-in of the historical church.”

Most of the area citizens are extremely supportive of the local churches, so the violation of holy ground was especially disturbing to them, she said.

Head said, “When I was a kid, as bad of stuff as we might have done, we’d have never touched a church.”

And so these towns are left to wonder if churches aren’t sacred, what else is next?

Norman Rockwell doesn’t want to know, either.

Brian Boyce can be reached at (812) 231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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