“I (was) just telling everybody the police are on their way, just try to please settle down, we’re going to get this taken care of,” he said.
Mark also tried to get the people still in the former Holy Spirit Church hall settled down so that the police could conduct their investigation.
“A lot of the players, as strange as this may sound, were concerned about when were we going to finish the games,” he said, but they cancelled the remaining games for the night and sent people home with partial refunds for games that weren’t played.
Mark said most of the police were gone by 12:30 a.m. except for one investigator who took final measurements and conducted a few more interviews, leaving about an hour later. He escorted a few of the players to their cars.
“It was traumatic for them,” he said. “Most of the players are elderly people and so, to afford them some comfort, I made sure that they got in their cars. I made sure that they locked their doors and that they were able to start their vehicles and leave without incident.”
Anne E. Schwartz, Milwaukee Police Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to your Catholic Herald that four people are in custody in connection with the armed robbery of five people.
The sign outside the church no longer displays the progressive jackpot dollar amount; now, it reads, “Labor Day bingo 1:00 p.m.” and “Friday bingo 7 p.m.” Mark said additional precautionary and security measures will be in effect as soon as they speak with the pastor, Fr. Luis Pacheco-Sanchez, who was out of town during the incident, and a liaison Milwaukee Police officer who will give them recommendations about how to prevent future issues.
“I think I’m going to request that anyone who uses our hall for parish functions be down there so that everything is done the same no matter if it’s bingo or a church dance or some other type of a fundraiser so that we can minimize the chance for this happening again,” he said.
Mark said that short-term changes will include the possibility of hiring a company to provide security or asking younger parishioners to volunteer; locking the doors as soon as bingo starts; eliminating smoking breaks and locking the door after the intermission so that anyone who leaves will be locked out of the building; and eliminating the second intermission, meaning sales for the big game will close much sooner than people are used to at St. Rafael.
“I don’t want to give anyone an opportunity to come through an unlocked door,” Mark said. “We are going to have to take a very hard line (approach).”
Friends and family will also no longer be able to stop by during the night, “because we want to try to make it as secure as possible,” Mark said about the parish’s biggest fundraiser, “and until we can meet with the police and discuss long term what needs to be done, this is going to have to suffice for the players.”
Mark said that the changes might inconvenience players and have an impact upon the money they raise, but “we’re going to have to work through it,” he said.
“Let me put it this way, if we wouldn’t have bingo, we probably wouldn’t have a church,” he said.
While Mark’s less trusting and more wary of people after the Friday night robbery, he said his wife is taking it harder.
“My wife is probably worse off than me, because she said every time she closes her eyes all she can see is the masks,” he said, “and she sees them shooting at me because I interrupted them – (though) they didn’t.”
Michael’s reaction was anger, not fright.
“ I can’t believe that they would even think that that (robbing a church) would be a good thing to do, even if there was a bunch of cash,” he said, explaining that he and his friends are protective of friends and family. “I consider these people, you know, family because it’s my parents’ church … they care about these people so I care about these people,” he said.
Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese, said that the archdiocese has a chancery trustee manual with procedures for trustees to follow: cash should be taken to a secure location for counting, large amounts should not be left to accumulate, two unrelated people should be present when counting, signed logs of what is raised should be maintained, periodic deposits should be made when larger fundraisers like parish festivals take place. But no recommendations are available for security measures for parishes hosting bingo night like St. Rafael.
“No archdiocesan-wide guidelines are in place right now,” she said.
In the meantime, Mark and Michael said bingo will continue.
“I did tell the cops that, you know, instead of sending them to jail, why don’t you bring them down here and let them deal with the bingo players because I think after that, they’d probably rather go to jail, because they interrupted a lot of bingo players’ bingo night,” Michael said, adding, “and I know how bingo players are and they don’t like that kind of stuff, so I definitely think that would be something fun to see.”