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Troubled youth behind vandalism at Christ by the Sea


The parents of a teenager Vero Beach Police have identified as a suspect in the vandalism at Christ by the Sea Methodist Church during Holy Week said he somehow went off track in recent months after being sexually targeted by an older man and having difficulties with a girl, becoming bitter, angry and combative.

Vero residents Tara and Keith Andrew McFarlane Jr. said their son Keith Andrew McFarlane III, who was 17 at the time of the vandalism, had always been “an awesome kid” who enjoyed baseball, had a girlfriend, was headed toward high school graduation and had a new a job with an aerospace machining company in Port St. Lucie. 

Then, over the past several months, the teen began to change. He started “acting out,” and developed dangerous behaviors, continuing to spiral downward in spite of his parents’ efforts to get help for him.

In the midst of the problems, the McFarlanes discovered that an older co-worker had been inappropriately communicating with their son at work and online. The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office was contacted, and the individual was arrested and charged with six counts related to sending obscene materials to minors.

Another source told police that the teen was angry at a girl, who may have been a member of the church where stained glass windows were smashed in a series of incidents.

The first incident of vandalism occurred sometime between April 7 and April 9, when a brick was thrown into a  window on the east side of the church; next, on April 10 just before 8 a.m., the church maintenance manager heard a loud noise from the sanctuary and discovered a south side  window  broken out by a large rock; at 8:20 a.m. April 12, police were again dispatched to the church and found that six large rocks had been thrown through three large windows in the prow-like front of the church that faces A1A.

Vero Beach Police stepped up patrols in between the incidents and canvassed the neighborhood afterward but were not able to locate a suspect.  During the initial interviews, church staff said they were not aware of problems with any individuals who might be considered suspects.

Then, according to the probable cause affidavit, on the Saturday before Easter, the church’s pastor, Cliff Melvin, contacted Police Detective Lt. John Pedersen about an incident the previous night, April 14, in which a pipe had been thrown through a window at the residence of the church’s music director Dr. Marcos Flores.  Vero detectives later learned the suspect in the Marcos incident was McFarlane.

On April 17, the Monday after Easter, Pastor Melvin told Det. Pedersen that the church had identified a possible suspect in the vandalism at the church, and was advised by the officer to contact the detective assigned to the case.

However, when Pedersen spoke with Melvin the following day, the pastor said he was not willing to release the name of the suspect, explaining that the situation was very sensitive and that he didn’t know whether the church would want to proceed with a criminal investigation.

At that time, a police spokesperson told Vero Beach 32963 that the investigation had been suspended, pending further word from the church, and Melvin told the paper that the congregation was praying for the as yet unidentified young man and his family.

On April 19, Melvin disclosed McFarlane’s name to Pedersen and explained that the youth’s father had contacted him to tell him his son had confessed to breaking the church windows.

Later that day, in an interview with an unnamed individual, Pedersen was told that the reason McFarlane targeted the church windows was because his “first girlfriend provoked him.” 

Finally on May 2, police charged McFarlane, a Vero Beach High School senior, with three felony counts of criminal mischief. Detectives obtained “take into custody” orders, but by that time McFarlane was already in detention at the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Ft. Pierce “for previous crimes” committed in other jurisdictions.

Last week, McFarlene’s parents spoke with Vero Beach 32963 about their son’s recent change in behavior and the circumstances surrounding his arrest.

McFarlane’s mother said she viewed his behavior as a cry for help, and she expressed hope he’ll be able to receive treatment he needs through the court system.

Meanwhile, McFarlane remains in the Ft. Pierce juvenile facility and, according to his father, is expected to be there until May 22. He was scheduled to appear before a judge this past Monday, May 15, which was, ironically, his 18th birthday.

Since the vandalism occurred, the church has installed exterior surveillance cameras, and the broken stained glass windows have been taken to the Vero Beach studio where they were created for repair.

The windows were designed in the 1990s by world-renowned stained-glass artist, the late Conrad Pickel. Pickel’s son, Paul, who helped make the windows, said repairs expected to cost between $10,000 and $15,000 have not begun yet, pending approval from the chruch’s insurance company.

Melvin said he has been amazed by the support the church has received from the community in the wake of the vandalism, including thousands of dollars in donations to help defray repair costs.