A Lao Buddhist temple in Phoenix was robbed of $1,500 by a group of women who entered asking for prayers on April 8, sparking concerns for other temples.
A group of 10 to 12 women came to the door of Wat Lao Thammaram at 16th and Purdue avenues in the late morning and asked the monks for a prayer, temple member Phoenix Keoma said.
One woman said her husband was sick in the hospital and asked for a prayer, explained Keoma. In the temple, a monk reportedly did prayers for three of the women.
While the monk was distracted with prayer, she said the other women walked around the temple and entered two monks’ bedrooms. They rifled through the rooms and took $1,000 from one monk in his 50s and $500 from the second monk in his 80s.
Phoenix police said that on April 10, police went to the temple for a robbery report.
Police said a man said he was physically restrained while others removed cash from several rooms.
Keoma said that another monk came in from outside, but the women distracted him with another prayer.
After the women got the money, “they bolted and left,” Keoma said. Later, when the monks went to their rooms, they discovered the theft.
Police confirmed the women left after getting the money and no one was injured.
Other Buddhist temples report thefts
Keoma said she heard other Valley Buddhist temples have been targeted with similar tactics, including one that was robbed the day after. However, police could not confirm any other thefts to The Arizona Republic.
Keoma and Lay Sisamouth, another congregation member and temple volunteer, said the thefts are similar to incidents happening across the Southwest and recently in Southern California.
NBC4 News Los Angeles reported on a string of such thefts in late March. One temple said a group asked monks to chant for a sick grandmother as a distraction for stealing donation boxes.
They also mentioned incidents where a group of people have stolen expensive jewelry by surreptitiously switching real and fake necklaces and slipping rings off of hands while shaking them, particularly targeting elders.
ABC10 News San Diego reported on a slew of jewelry thefts reported to San Diego police in the fall of 2018.
Keoma said news of the robbery has worried some in the Valley’s Asian community. The congregation was shocked, Sisamouth said, with members asking about what happened and if the monks were hurt.He noted the Waddell Buddhist temple shooting had left a scar on the community. Nine people were killed at the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple, including six monks, in 1991 in Waddell.
Sisamouth said he was shocked. He had seen a similar theft on Facebook, then more, and now it had happened to his temple.
“With the rise in Asian hate crimes and especially the elders getting targeted, it kind of hit a lot closer to home now,” Keoma said. “…To rob our temple, especially around Lao New Year, was a really hard blow to a lot of our community.”
During Lao New Year Celebrations, temple members were afraid a second robbery might take place. An Instagram post by the Arizona Lao Community warned people that criminals may seek out Buddhist temples during Buddhist New Year. However, nothing happened.
Keoma said, “To kind of rob the most innocent of us, it’s really awful.”
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