Central Valley

Burglars swipe gifts for poor kids, set Modesto church on fire

Police arrested a man and woman who allegedly broke into a Modesto church, stole Christmas presents intended for needy children and set the building afire.

Officers went to the New Bethany Church in the 300 block of 6th Street after police received a silent alarm at 11:44 p.m. Tuesday.

The officers spotted Melissa Baker, 25, of Hughson walking away from the church with wrapped Christmas presents labeled for distribution to specific children, police said. Moments later, Randy McClain, 39, of Modesto was spotted climbing out of one of the church windows.

Baker and McClain, who police said are married, were arrested.

Officers could see flames inside the church. An explosion blew out the windows.

Firefighters were called and put out the fire. The fire, which police believe was set to cover up the burglary, did heavy damage to an addition beside the church sanctuary. No damage estimate was available.

"I couldn't believe someone would break into the church and set it on fire," said Charles Evins, the church pastor. He noted the church has been broken into and vandalized several times.

"We just pray that it stops," he said.

Baker and McClain were booked on suspicion of arson, burglary, conspiracy to commit a crime, possession of stolen property and parole violations.

This morning, items pulled from the church windows lay in charred heaps by the side of the building. On the other side of the building, a Modesto Irrigation District crew was working on the church's electrical panels.

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