Sheriff's Department: multiple complaints of vandalism at Gleason church in past year

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GLEASON, Wis. (WSAW) -- The Lincoln County Sheriff's Department is investigating several reports of vandalism to a more than 100 year old church in the midst of restoration.

Lt. Tim Fischer tells NewsChannel 7 this isn't the first time the Sheriff's Department has received a complaint about vandalism at the church.

"In the past year or so, we've had three different incidents of activity out at the church, whether it was requesting extra patrol or criminal damage or vandalism," Fischer explained. "Various types of complaints like that throughout the year."

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Bill Rebane, director of the restoration project, tells NewsChannel 7 this week paint was thrown inside the church onto a cross valued at $3,000 and a satanic pentagram was painted inside.

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"The marking of the devil in there. It's just uncalled for. It's just... I don't even think that local kids would resort to stuff like that," Rebane explained.

Lt. Fischer said no leads have been brought forward yet, so there's no way authorities can suspect who may be behind the vandalism at this time.

"Could be mischievous kids, could be a religious hate group, could be a vast number of things, we just haven't identified a specific pattern," Fischer said.

Rebane said the recent vandalism doesn't just make restoration efforts harder than before -- now, they will also be much more expensive.

"Including time and labor, that's gotta be about $5,000-$6,000 total," Rebane said.

Despite the setback, he and his volunteer group remain dedicated to breathing new life into a piece of Wisconsin's past.

"We're not gonna give up," Rebane said. "No no. This is gonna go forward and we'll do the best we can."

The Estonian Evangelical Martin Luther Church is the first Estonian church built in the United States, and stands as the only one in the state. The church is located on a dead end road on Estonian Church Road near Gleason in the Town of Schley.

The church was built in 1907, but the building had fallen into extreme disrepair. In 2014, a group of people came together to begin the restoration process.

But in recent weeks the restoration has hit some roadblocks.

“It's not just a prank. When you do something to this level and rip the doors of something it doesn't seem right,” Rebane said.

If you would like to learn more about the church restoration, click here.

If you have any information about this case, contact the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department at (715) 536-6272.