Chinese residents preparing for the Mid-Autumn Festival had another reason to celebrate Wednesday, thanks to the Amsterdam Police Department.
Investigators probing last week’s string of burglaries got a tip from a witness who recognized a large golden Buddha statue, Detective Owen Fuhs said.
“The statue broke it,” Fuhs said of the investigation that yielded two arrests and identified a third suspect who still was being sought Wednesday.
Fuhs said six buildings were broken into last week during a string of heists believed to have been carried out over a period of several days. The bulk of the loot consisted of copper piping, which can be sold by the pound as scrap.
Also stolen were several statues placed on the altar of the former St. Casimir’s Church, which is being transformed into the Five Buddha Temple by members of the World Peace and Health Organization, a Chinese Buddhist group that purchased the church.
Police recovered the large, golden Buddha statue — considered priceless by the group — and are holding it at their headquarters while the investigation continues.
David Rodriguez, 27, of Leffert Street, and Hector M. Martinez, 24, of Vrooman Avenue, both in Amsterdam, were charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.
Another man, Harry Delvalle, 29, is believed to have fled to the Rochester area and police there are looking for him, Fuhs said. Delvalle is a Hispanic male about 6-feet 3-inches tall and weighing 160 pounds, police said.
Fuhs said it’s not clear yet how many statues will be recovered — but he said police found pieces of the others, which led them to believe some may have been smashed up to yield brass or other valuable metals.
Copper is netting scrappers about $2.55 per pound, making it a lucrative prize for those willing to risk arrest.
Fuhs said it’s tough for scrap dealers to differentiate between stolen copper piping and pipes legitimately gutted from a house being demolished.
Fuhs said for police, the fact that a house of worship was one of the targets added some motivation to the investigation. “A burglary is a burglary, but there are some things in our society we all think are sacred. Nobody likes people messing with somebody else’s churches,” he said.
TIME FOR CELEBRATION
Members of the World Peace and Health Organization went to the police station Tuesday night to identify the recovered statue, which accompanied some of the group’s members on their trip from Hong Kong four years ago.
Group spokeswoman Jennie Wong said it’s unclear how old the statue is, but it was brought to Hong Kong from Thailand. She said the statue’s disappearance, and its damaged condition, will push a public opening for the Five Buddha Temple further into the future.
The statue is “hurt in face and hands, just like we human beings get hurt,” Wong said. The Buddhists intend to get it fixed before placing it back on the altar.
She said the Buddhist monks and adherents of Buddhist Master Zi Guang Shang Shi do not and cannot bear any bad will toward the thieves who entered the temple.
“We have to remember not to do bad things and only do good things. For the bad people, they get punished, they get imprisonment because of their own bad karma,” she said.
Wong said she and her friends and their family members who traveled to Amsterdam this week were planning to commemorate the Mid-Autumn Festival, observed annually in Asian countries and areas of the Unites States with large Asian populations.
She said the statue’s recovery will add to the celebration.
“We will be very happy. We will pray together that the statues will be back very soon,” Wong said.
Similar to harvest festivals, the event takes place when the moon is at its fullest and dates back thousands of years, Wong said. She said the celebration would include singing and dancing and making wishes for loved ones under the light of the full moon.
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Categories: Schenectady County