TOWNSEND - The Blount County Sheriff's Office is investigating multiple vehicle break-ins and thefts at River Rat Tubing in Townsend.
A van from Central Baptist Church of Fountain City was one of the burglarized vehicles.
Associate pastor for youth and college Josh Beeler says about 25 students and chaperones from the church made the annual trip to the Little River.
Beeler says several phones, purses, and credit cards were stolen while the group was on the river.
"They definitely kind of got some wind taken out of their sails," Beeler said.
Beeler said the group traveled in a bus and a van and parked in the back of the parking lot. The way the bus parked blocked the van from view.
"This was something we'll do differently next time," Beeler said. "I think that made for a good target."
Management for River Rat says Saturday's break-ins were the first in nearly 23 years of business.
"It's definitely tough to lose all those items and for the kids to go through that, but at the same time they handled it really well, the sheriff's office was very helpful and River Rat Tubing - they were great to work with, too. They really cared for the kids and did all they could to manage the situation."
While sheriff's deputies investigate, Beeler says the experience serves as a learning opportunity.
"You know you feel bad for anybody who feels like they have to go to these lengths to just get something that they need for life, but you also get bummed for the people who've just lost something," Beeler said. "We're really just looking at is as an opportunity to talk to the kids and teach them how to be forgiving, teach them how to go through life with grace and that kind of thing."
If anyone has any information about the break-ins, or may have seen any suspicious activity in the parking lot of River Rat Saturday afternoon, you can call the Blount County Investigations Unit at (865) 273-5001.
If you would rather leave an anonymous tip, you can call the 24-hour anonymous crime hotline at (856) 273-5200.
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