A crack smoking scuzzbucket has been arrested in the case of the stolen Christmas gifts in St. Bernard Parish.
A 45-year-old man on parole for a previous burglary conviction was booked early Wednesday with stealing Christmas presents for needy children from a Violet church over the weekend, according to the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office.
Herman "Peter" Smiles allegedly hurled a cement block through the window of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church about 2 a.m. Sunday, filled six bags with the goods and carried them to his home where he lives with his mommy.
Smiles allegedly confessed during questioning. He told detectives that he broke into the church shortly after smoking crack. He allegedly searched for money but instead stumbled upon a stack of wrapped presents, stashed under a wooden crucifix.
There, Smiles reportedly told detectives, he unwrapped gift boxes and rifled through gift bags for nearly an hour. He allegedly stuffed them into several bags and made two trips carrying them to his room in his mom's house, about 300 feet away.
Members of Our Lady of Lourdes, 2621 Colonial Blvd., worked vigorously to identify needy children in their community devastated by the effects of poverty and Hurricane Katrina. They then bought them Christmas presents, wrapped them and planned a giveaway.
The presents were stolen the day before church volunteers doled the goods out. When they arrived to prepare for Sunday Mass, they found only torn wrapping paper and empty boxes and bags.
After word spread of the crime, people from across the metropolitan area and as far as Wisconsin and Ohio showered the church with new presents and cash donations. By Tuesday night, gifts were piled on the floor about seven feet deep along several of the church's walls. The Boy Scouts in Metairie donated 15 bicycles. The Salvation Army stuffed nylon crawfish bags with toys.
Instead of receiving just one or two presents as originally planned, the children braced to receive a sack about the size of a yard bag packed with gifts. Our Lady of Lourdes, it turned out, amassed a mound of Christmas joy much larger than it ever expected.
The Sheriff's Office returned the gifts to the church by late Wednesday morning, officials said.