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Tofte church receives threats

The Cook County Sheriff's Office is asking for the public's help after threatening notes against a pastor and his family were left at a Tofte church.

Zoar Lutheran Church received its first threatening note Oct. 3. The second one came soon after. The third note was posted to the church's sign a few weeks ago.

According to Chief Deputy Will Sandstrom, the case is still under investigation.

"We have taken some of our items and are having them analyzed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension," he said.

Sandstrom said one note was handwritten and two were typed. All of the notes were left on the property at some point. Neither Pastor Daren Blanck nor the sheriff's office would elaborate on what the notes said.

"There are currently no suspects, but we feel that whoever left the first one left the others as well because the contents of the threatening letters are pretty similar," Sandstrom said. "We will look into any leads and any information that is supplied."

Blanck said the church has re-evaluated its security and safety plans since the notes were received.

"We as a congregation have decided that it's just prudent in the light of all of the various incidences of violence in the country that we would make sure that we took appropriate measures," he said. "We have decided that during the worship time that we would have the doors locked. We are looking at a few other issues just around the building that we thought would be good to look at to make sure worshipers are safe on Sundays."

Blanck said the church plans to lock the doors during all of its events if there's not somebody attending the door.

"We're not trying to barricade ourselves in, but if there is an open door where anybody can walk in and nobody is inside of that door, then why have it open?" he said.

Blanck said he encourages all churches to take another look at their security and safety plans as a standard practice. He pointed to the shooting spree in Northern California last week, when a man went on a rampage after he couldn't gain access to a school.

"The reason he wasn't successful was that the school had taken appropriate precautions, and not because they had been targeted in the past, but because that's what schools have done in recent years, so we just think it's appropriate as a church," Blanck said.

The congregation was notified after the third note was received because it was of a more threatening nature.

"The leadership at the church here felt that it was appropriate to alert the members in case they had heard of anyone that was expressing disgruntlement or concern with the church, and also just to make sure they were aware that there was a safety issue and the reason why we were examining the safety protocols at the church," Blanck said.

Since the congregation of about 50 people has learned of the threat, Blanck said the support has been huge — more people have been attending Sunday worship service than before.

"I firmly believe that God can use anything for good, although this certainly isn't a good thing. If it brings us together as a community, that can be a good thing," he said.

Blanck said no one is immune to the fact that "we live in a fallen world where stuff like this happens," but he hopes residents won't shy away from worshipping at their local churches.

"The reason churches are a part of communities is that we ought to be places where people can find hope, come together as a community and share faith and then bring that light and hope back out with them to their neighbors," he said.

To submit a tip, call the Cook County Sheriff's Office at (218) 387-3030.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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