Buddhist monks drop charges, offer forgiveness after thief steals thousands

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A month after 10 On Your Side aired surveillance video of a break-in at a Virginia Beach Buddhist temple, we’ve learned one of the criminals turned himself in.

“The person involved and his mother were so moved by what they saw that they came forward to the temple,” explained Dong Hung Buddhist temple member Mary Sullivan.

While some may consider a burglar someone they want to see behind bars, the monks chose to take a different approach. They put the 23-year-old man to work to pay off his debts.

“We’re all going to err,” Sullivan said. “We have all, at some point in our life, wanted redemption. We have all done things we have truly regretted. We have all been at that point in our lives where we’d like to turn our lives around.”

The monks say they’d rather teach the young man their core principles of forgiveness and redemption.

The young man did not want to be interviewed, but told 10 On Your Side’s Deanna LeBlanc off camera that he was under the influence of drugs when he and a second man broke into the temple. He claims to have spent that money on drugs.

Though the man took so much from the temple and its members, they’re all giving him their full support.

“I come from a similar place that he is,” said another temple member, Shawn Berggren. “I’ve been clean for 12 years now and hopefully in 12 years, he can be where I’m at.”

Berggren is now mentoring and supervising the would-be robber, who says he is now in recovery. This summer, they’ll build an addition to the temple as a form or restitution and a road to recovery.

“If someone comes forward — has the courage to do what this young man did — that took a lot of courage to say, ‘Hey that’s me,’ and if someone does that, I think that’s pretty profound,” said Sullivan.

Since the break-in, temple leaders say they have been advised by Virginia Beach police to increase their security system. The cost of doing so is great, and having just been robbed, the monks could use your help. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here.