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Bellflower : 3 Teen-Agers Arrested for Robbery at Church Service

March 05, 1992

Parishioners of a Bellflower Spanish-language Pentecostal church were terrorized and robbed recently by three 17-year-old boys who wore masks and carried what appeared to be pistols, police said.

After accosting one churchgoer outside the door of the Iglesia Pentecostal Unida at 3:30 a.m. Feb. 29, the trio forced their way into the Alondra Boulevard church where more than 20 adults and teen-agers were conducting an all-night payer vigil.

The robbers ordered everyone to lie on the floor, took $170 and a wallet from two church members, and struck Pastor Luis Abrego with a runner's weight, giving him a black eye, said a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. They also yanked a telephone off the wall after one parishioner attempted to call 911, authorities said.

All but $70 was recovered a short time later after two youths were apprehended by sheriff's deputies using police dogs on the Bellflower High School grounds across the street from the church. Deputies also found a BB pistol, a toy gun and the weight. A third youth was taken into custody at his home.

"The people were pretty much terrified," said Deputy Tim Blackburn, a robbery investigator at the Lakewood sheriff's station. "It turned out (that the guns) were not true firearms, but the people at the time didn't know that."

Abrego said one of the assailants held a gun to his head, but Abrego commanded, "I say in Jesus' name, devil get out of here."

The assailants backed off, Abrego said, but one of them hit him before he left the church. Blackburn said the youths told him they were afraid a curse had been put on them.

Abrego said churchgoers bear no ill will toward the youths. "We've forgiven them," he said. "We believe that God was taking care of us."

Authorities said church robberies are rare. "This is the first one I've ever had," said Blackburn, who has been at the Lakewood station since 1970 and a robbery investigator since 1985.

Deputies, who were flagged down on Alondra by a parishioner after the robbery, arrested the youths on suspicion of robbery, felony assault and attempted robbery. They were taken to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.

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