(WBIR - Gatlinburg) The investigation continues into who stole a church van from a Gatlinburg place of worship.
The Dodge Ram 3500 was stolen from Roaring Fork Baptist Church's parking lot around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Pastor Kim McCroskey said a neighbor noticed a car pull into the parking lot and then saw the church van drive off about five minutes later.
"Inside the bus we kept a key, but it was locked. You had to have a key to get in it. But they went in through the back door, which did not lock and I guess they found the key. I don't know. Quite frankly, we didn't think we'd ever see the bus again," Pastor McCroskey said, He added, "It really took me. I couldn't believe it. Nothing like this has ever happened here before. I called everyone I could think of who would have came and maybe picked it up and none of them did. Then I reported it stolen," said Pastor McCroskey.
The van, which is used to transport about 20 children to and from weekly church services, was found shortly afterwards at a shopping center in Newport, TN. Pastor McCroskey said an employee at the shopping center noticed the van still sitting in the shopping center's parking lot a day later and called the church, which in turn called police.
Whoever stole the church van left it unharmed. It only had an empty tank of gas.
After being returned to church, the van was put back in service and picked up children living in Gatlinburg who needed a ride to worship service.
Roaring Fork Baptist Church has five church vans. The one stolen is the only one that stays in the church's parking lot. The others are taken home by the drivers, as they serve other cities.
Pastor McCroskey said he no longer keeps a spare key in the van.