A young couple from Beaver County who stole copper wire from utility poles to pay for their wedding has received national exposure for what some may assume was out-of-control wedding madness.
But the priest who celebrated their August wedding says they’re basically decent kids who panicked when the groom lost his job and didn't realize that they could have turned to the church for help. What they did was wrong, he said, but they’re doing their best to make it right.
The theft “isn’t characteristic of the two people I prepared for marriage,” said the Rev. Jim Farnan, pastor of St. Philomena Catholic Church in Beaver Falls, where the bride is a member.
“I think they were embarrassed because he lost his job. I think they felt a lot of pressure to make a nice wedding. People in love do crazy things, and they didn't think it through. But the way they responded, that they’re cooperating with the police, and have admitted what they've done and will make restitution -- that’s the couple I know.”
Joseph Russell, 23, and his wife, April, 24, of Eastvale were charged Sept. 19 with stealing copper wire worth more than $7,000 from utility poles several days before the August 13 wedding. It didn’t help them much with their bills: Police say they netted just $18 from a scrap dealer. Mr. Russell has said it was about $30.
Mr. Russell, who went on camera with TV stations to admit what he had done, said they were desperate because he was out of work and they had lost a $1,000 deposit when a hall they had planned to rent closed down.
Police say the bride-to-be drove the truck for her fiancee as he clipped the wires, and then used her own name to sell the copper to a scrap dealer. The scrap company, Allegheny Raw Materials, gave police video of the couple.
“It surprised me that they did this. But I’m not surprised that they did it together,” Father Farnan said. “They support one another. They were sincere, they had a real closeness. They are good for one another. I’m sure that’s why they’re so remorseful. You can see it in their interviews.”
According to Father Farnan, Ms. Russell was an adult convert to Catholicism and her husband isn’t Catholic. During pre-marital counseling they never brought up his job loss, although the
priest had heard about it from others.
“They tried to handle this by themselves. They thought that the burden fell all on them, but I think they will learn that there is a whole community of people supporting them,” he said.
Their wedding, he said, wasn’t extravagant. “I think they stole to pay for very basic things, like her dress,” he said.
The parishioners are disappointed in the young couple but won’t turn their backs on them, Father Farnan said. He expects that people will step up to help them with both the wedding bills and the restitution.
“There are people who will be willing to help them out in any way they can. But they will do it saying, ‘It’s better that you come to me before than after,’” he said.
The moral of the story isn’t a warning about bridezillas, he said. The lessons that people should draw are about what it means to be married in a community of Christian believers.
“The most important people at the wedding are God and the couple,” he said. “There is so much pressure to show your love materially, and you have to avoid that. It’s important to remember that your marriage is a communal experience, it’s a parish experience. You don’t have to go through this on your own. There are a lot of people out there who understand and appreciate what you are going through. Don’t underestimate the generosity of people who want couples to experience the most beautiful side of their wedding.”