WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas — On Sunday, Nov. 20, just before 12:30 p.m., a car full of people pulled into Wat Busayadhammvanaram, the Buddhist temple in White Settlement.
Witnesses said there were nine people, eight who got out of the car and entered the monastery.
"We let them come in, and he asked the monk to pray for his brother because his brother had cancer. He's in the hospital," said Sulee Adams. At the Buddhist temple, they don't turn away anyone in need.
Adams translated for Saravut Pumcharoen, the monk who was there when the incident happened. Only one other member was at the temple at the time.
Pumcharoen said three women blocked him from leaving the prayer room, while others distracted the member. During that time, two of the suspects went to the monks living quarters, broke into their locked rooms and file cabinets.
"He already had a feeling something is not right in that time," said Adams. "He was confused and scared and didn't know what to do."
White Settlement Police Chief Christopher Cook confirms the thieves took $38,000 in cash, considered a felony theft. Cook calls it a diversionary theft tactic.
"They're really preying upon these facilities," said Cook. "It's very unfortunate that somebody would prey upon a faith-based organization like our Buddhist temple."
Since the incident was reported, Cook has been in communication with Irving and Fort Worth police departments, who are also investigating thefts at the Buddhist temples in those cities.
Cook said the getaway car, later found in White Settlement, had fake paper tags and was stolen out of Dallas before the three DFW Buddhist temples were targeted. He believes the van was used in the Fort Worth incident.
The chief added that the Arlington Police Department has spotted that vehicle in an apartment complex in East Arlington and is assisting with the investigation.
Cook also received calls from police departments across the country, citing similar crimes. Cook said the FBI is now involved to determine if it should be enhanced to a hate crime.
"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. It basically wiped them out, took all their donations. That's horrific," said Cook.
Members of the temple and the monks are worried for the next Buddhist temple that could be targeted. They hope the suspects are caught.
Anyone with information about the suspects is asked to contact White Settlement Police Department.