Police departments in North Texas are investigating a possible theft ring responsible for a string of burglaries targeting local Buddhist temples.
One incident occurred at Wat Busayadhammvanaram in White Settlement on Nov. 20, FOX 4 reported. There, nine suspects who arrived in a stolen van distracted a monk before stealing $38,000 in cash.
The group approached the monk and asked him to pray for a “brother” who was allegedly in the hospital, NBC DFW reported.
As the monk prayed, some members of the group reportedly began to break into the temple’s rooms. The money they stole had been allotted by the temple for upcoming festivities.
“He already had a feeling something was not right at that time,” temple member Sulee Adams told WFAA. “He was confused and scared and didn’t know what to do.”
The suspects — a man and eight women — wore masks and head scarves to cover their faces, White Settlement police said. The stolen van was recovered two days later.
Similar temple robberies reportedly occurred elsewhere in North Texas. One occurred in Irving on Nov. 22, followed by another in Fort Worth on Thanksgiving.
White Settlement Police Chief Chris Cook said the incidents appear to involve the same group of suspects using the same tactic of “diversionary theft.” He said the department will be working with the FBI as similar incidents have also been reported in Arkansas, California and New Mexico, as per NBC DFW.
“They were taken advantage of. You had a group of criminals that walked in here deliberately distracting the monk, distracting other leadership here with the goal of trying to steal as much money as they had,” Cook said, according to WFAA.
“It basically wiped them out, took all their donations. That’s horrific.”
A Buddhist temple in Nashville, Tennessee, was also robbed on Nov. 27. Police are looking for the five suspects involved in that incident.