Hours before the Rev. Michael Guthrie conducted his Christmas Eve service, he and other relatives met to discuss how to get his niece off drugs.
While the pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in West View led the Monday night service, police said Jessica Hirth, 28, and her boyfriend, Jeremiah Kelly, 26, both of Ross, entered her uncle's home and stole credit cards, checks, rare coins, heirlooms, computers -- and his dead son's handgun.
Ross police Friday obtained arrest warrants for the couple, wanted on charges of burglary, receiving stolen property and criminal conspiracy.
Relatives, increasingly concerned about his niece's heroin problem, noticed money had gone missing when she was present, Rev. Guthrie said, and on Monday discussed ways to get her into a drug rehabilitation program. Ms. Hirth has previous drug charges.
Through his work, the pastor of 30 years said he has known of "too many families who have grieved over their children who died from this."
"My desire is that she is found so she can get the help she needs," he said. "She is a danger to her family and to herself."
The gun belonged to Rev. Guthrie's son, Joshua, a missionary pilot who died when his plane crashed during a training exercise in Zellwood, Fla., in 2010. Rev. Guthrie and his son used the gun to go target shooting together.
Losing checks and computers wasn't easy, said Ross Sgt. Benjamin Dripps.
"But more important to him was that he was missing items of a sentimental value that had belonged to his son," he said. "There's a lot more to it than simply breaking into a house."
Joshua Guthrie was leading a training program for new pilots for an education center based in Dunnellon, Fla. The program was responsible for flying medicine and food to South America and elsewhere. It's a dangerous job, Rev. Guthrie said: Pilots often fly into remote areas with no landing strips.
"He was just an extraordinary young man whose thought was to help people," Rev. Guthrie said. "That vision just expanded from his own little world to the entire world."
Ms. Hirth and Joshua Guthrie were playmates growing up and Rev. Guthrie's wife used to baby-sit her. His niece was familiar with the home, he said, and had last visited over the summer for a family gathering.
Ms. Hirth and Mr. Kelly live a block away, and the Guthrie residence is visible from their home, he added.
When Rev. Guthrie arrived home about 9:30 p.m. Monday, he said he noticed two laptops were missing. He went downstairs and noticed a locked area with his son's belongings had been ransacked. Inside that area were the heirlooms, jewelry, rare coins and the gun.
Also charged in the burglary case with two counts of hindering apprehension and a count of obstructing administration of law is Mr. Kelly's mother, 53-year-old Teresa Lenz, also of Ross. She is accused of attempting to hide her son and his girlfriend when a Ross police officer knocked on her door, attempting to get Ms. Hirth to return the stolen items.
Ms. Lenz was arrested Friday night. Ms. Hirth and Mr. Kelly were last seen in Ford City and are the subjects of other ongoing investigations, Sgt. Dripps said. They should be considered armed and dangerous, he said.
Online court records show that Ms. Hirth pleaded guilty to drug possession after McCandless police charged her with the crime last year. She is also awaiting a February preliminary hearing on drug charges filed by West View police earlier this month.
Mr. Kelly has pleaded guilty to drug charges and to driving under the influence in two incidents that occurred in 2008.
Ross police asked anyone with information about their whereabouts to call 412-931-9070.
Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944.