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Two men arrested in Tennessee church air-conditioning thefts

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE Tenn. (Reuters) - Two men have been arrested and charged with stealing $21,000 worth of air-conditioning systems from four rural Tennessee churches during a summer heat wave, apparently to sell as scrap, police said on Monday.

Donald Ray Hyatt, 42, and Cody Lebron Pace, 21, both of Cleveland, Tennessee, were charged with four counts of theft of over $1,000, said Bradley County Sheriff's spokesman Bob Gault.

"All you can do is try to lead them to Christ, hope they repent and put them in jail," said Bill Casteel, longtime elder at Union Grove Church of Christ in Cleveland, who previously told Reuters the thieves would face hellfire for eternity if they weren't caught on earth.

Casteel said all the Sunday school classes have been held together in the auditorium, which is the only room in the church that still has an air conditioner, because the classrooms are too stuffy.

Police are still investigating thefts of air conditioners from other churches in nearby counties and additional charges may be filed, Gault said in a news release.

The Bradley County thefts occurred between July 14 and July 22, according to Gault, who said authorities believe the units were torn down and sold for scrap metal and copper.

(Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Eric Beech)

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