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Alerted to a robbery next door, rural church swings into action

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Sunday, Nov. 5, is a day rural New Hope Baptist Church won’t soon forget. After all, members of the Pulaski County church cut short their morning worship services to help nab a pair of armed robbery suspects.

Pastor Danny Taylor said everything seemed as usual for New Hope members, many of whom had attended Sunday school, fellowshipped with friends and were listening to his sermon on the perils of gambling. That was until 17-year-old Larren Howell burst through the door of the sanctuary shortly after 11 a.m.

Running to the front of the church, Taylor said, Howell grabbed his arm and shouted that the convenience store next door was being robbed. Howell, a clerk at the store located on Arkansas Highway 10, had been forced to empty the register by two robbers. He ran out of the store while the two ordered his 69-year-old boss, Shannon King, to the floor, according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

“I recognized Howell immediately and knew something was terribly wrong,” Taylor recounted. “I immediately told some of my congregation to dial 911 to call the police.”

Meanwhile, Taylor and some men from the church, worried about King, rushed outside to help. They were shot at by one of the robbers who had also fired at Howell before he made it into the church.

“We were afraid they were going to take Mr. King hostage,” said Taylor, who, along with his church members, took cover behind parked cars.

Back inside the church, Taylor said many members prayed for safety of the church members and store employees. Others comforted frightened children.

The robbers soon fled in a car, tailed by two New Hope members. Taylor said his church members, who were shot at twice, kept police informed via a cell phone until the thieves slammed on their breaks. At that point, the pursuers rammed the get-a-way vehicle.

Fortunately, the New Hope men were not hurt in the crash. Their car, however, was not so lucky, Taylor said.

After a lengthy car chase, the robbers — Frederick Smith, 32, and Antonio McClendon, 18, both of Little Rock — were captured by Little Rock police and jailed. They were charged with single counts of aggravated assault and two counts each of aggravated robbery.

In a published news report, John Rehrauer, pubic information officer for the Pulaski County sheriff’s office, praised the efforts of the New Hope congregation.

“Talk about some great help,” Rehrauer said. “We get a 911 call from the church about a robbery in progress and shots fired, then one of the church members gives us invaluable help by following the suspects and allowing Little Rock to get a couple of cars in position. It was really something.”

Taylor noted church members were only looking out for a friend in need. “As Christians, we need to always help look out for each other,” he said, “but I surely hope history does not soon repeat itself.”

Noting his congregation was “shook up and scared,” Taylor said, unfortunately, this type situation is to be expected during this day and age. “It is just the kind of world we live in,” he stated.

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  • Stella Anderson Prather