Community Shows Faith in Officers

13 Division

It’s not often, as a police officer, you get blessed for solving a break-and-enter.

Investigators assigned to 13 Division, who mobilized quickly to solve a break-and-enter investigation at a local church, had no idea how much their efforts would be appreciated.

They were subsequently invited to attend the 100th Anniversary celebration at Saint Clare’s Catholic Church, during which over 1,000 people thanked them for returning the ashes of Saint Clare and Saint Francis of Assisi which were contained in small gold relics. The relics dated back to 1182 A.D.

“I was sincerely affected by how significant these religious relics were to the community. They were crying for joy, not because of the monetary value of the gold, but because of the relics and the saints’ ashes that were returned to them. We were very humbled by their gratitude,” Det. Wil Gagliardi said. “They were, as a group, very compassionate and forgiving people. They simply wanted their relics returned because they were symbols of their faith.”

It was late summer when a man allegedly broke into Saint Clare’s Catholic Church on St. Clair Ave. W., stealing gold relics that were locked away. In the process, the thief also took the time to disgrace and destroy the sacramental area of the altar, tearing a Bible in two, pouring hot wax on the ground and extinguishing cigarettes into the altar.Among the gold relics were small, egg-sized golden objects containing the ashes of Saint Clare and Francis of Assisi, who both lived poor and humble lives in the service of God.

These relics were among the most treasured items the church possessed.

“This is a noteworthy example of why we, as a Service, must be aware of the far-reaching impact members have when dealing with any of our religious communities,” said Gagliardi, of the great meaning attached to their symbols of faith. “It was a single offence, a single incident, but it affected more than the 1,000 people who were at that mass. This incident reverberated throughout the entire religious community.”

Gagliardi said 13 Division quickly mobilized the Primary Response, Community Response, Bail Compliance and Major Crime Units to reach out to the community to help catch the thief within 48 hours.

“We utilized all of our resources,” he said, of gathering information at the crime scene and other investigative techniques employed that led to an arrest. Sinan Yukselir, 35, was arrested and charged with break-and-enter, theft over, possession of property obtained by crime, possession of proceeds of crime and mischief relating to religious property. He pled guilty to all charges and received a custodial sentence, as well as three years’ probation and extensive psychiatric assistance.Although some of the relics were damaged, all were returned to the church.

“I don’t think the accused realized what he’d taken, and certainly had no idea with respect to the sentimental value these items possessed for the parishioners” Gagliardi said, of the thief.

Gagliardi said 13 Division worked as a team to ensure the arrest, but made special mention of the following officers for their perseverance and investigative skills: Detective Constables Claudia Cid, Donato Persichetti, Paul Young, Jeff Gough, Matthew McDonald and Ian Weir. 

The officers were granted an audience with Cardinal Thomas Collins after the mass, who blessed them on behalf of the church for their hard work.

“It was really one of the most touching moments in my career,” Gagliardi said, of the outpouring of gratitude from parishioners and clergy alike. “I think the team should be commended for their investigative abilities and successful closure to a traumatic incident.”

D/Sgt. Savas Kyriacou said MCU officers are an exceptional group.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg for the exceptional work from the 13 Division Major Crime Unit,” he said. “Twenty-four hours prior to this particular arrest, the team recovered the life savings, valued at over $100,000, of an elderly couple whose home was also broken into.”

Father Vito Marziliano, pastor of the Church, said he was impressed by the concern and care shown by all the officers that he came into contact with during the case.

“I wish to sincerely thank the officers who have worked so hard, from the morning of the theft onward, to find the relics and return them to us. I know that they have given it their all in order to not only to find what was missing, but especially in giving peace and joy to a community that had been so deeply hurt,” Marziliano wrote in a letter to the Division. “As we embark upon our pilgrimage today, that will lead us to various shrines in Europe, among which, Assisi and the Basilica of St. Clare, I promise to remember them, 13 Division, and all the great men and women here and elsewhere, who serve and protect.”

While in Europe, Father Marziliano and his entire pilgrimage made a special stop at the cave of St. Michael, the patron Saint of the police, and collectively prayed for the Toronto Police Service.

Gold and silver ornamental objects on a desk
Church relics recovered by investigators. Saints' ashes contained in to oval objects at bottom of the display Photo: Toronto Police Service

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