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A high-profile pastor was robbed during a live-streamed service in NYC

Bishop Lamor Whitehead says members of his congregation were traumatized when gunmen disrupted a service on Sunday. He's seen here in 2014.
Larry Busacca
Getty Images for VH1
Bishop Lamor Whitehead says members of his congregation were traumatized when gunmen disrupted a service on Sunday. He's seen here in 2014.

Gunmen burst into a church as its pastor was live-streaming a service in Brooklyn on Sunday, making off with more than $1 million worth of jewelry from him and his wife, according to the New York Police Department.

The thieves targeted Bishop Lamor Whitehead, who heads the Leaders of Tomorrow International Churches and is known for flashy displays of wealth. Whitehead also describes New York Mayor Eric Adams, the former president of the Brooklyn borough, as his mentor.

Whitehead recounted the robbery in a video on Instagram, describing the moment during the morning service when he saw several armed men enter the Leaders of Tomorrow church in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn .

The armed men drove off in a Mercedes

"When I [saw] them come into the sanctuary with their guns, I told everybody, 'Get down,' Whitehead said. "I didn't know if they wanted to shoot the church up, or if they were just coming for a robbery."

It was the latter. Tallying the value of what was taken, a spokesperson from the office of the deputy commissioner for public information told NPR that the three gunmen "removed more than $1 million worth of jewelry from the victims."

The thieves fled on foot before getting into a white Mercedes Benz, the spokesperson said.

Whitehead says he chased the men on foot and then in his car, adding that he knows they changed their clothes in the car and took off their masks. No one was hurt in the incident, police say.

The In his video, Whitehead said it was both "a gift and a curse" to become a well-known religious figure.

Whitehead rose to wide public attention in May

The pastor also made headlines in May, when he mediated the surrender of NYC subway shooting suspect Andrew Abdullah. At the time, Whitehead said he was connected to the suspect's family through his church. But it was the pastor's ostentatious appearance — wearing a Fendi suit jacket as he stepped out of a Rolls-Royce at a legal aid office — that drew the most attention.

Some of that criticism renewed after the robbery, as people questioned whether the church leader should be living in luxury.

Whitehead acknowledged the high value of the stolen jewelry, saying the men had likely watched his sermons to scout their target. But, he added, those are merely material things.

"I know a lot of people are gonna say, 'Oh, why are you so flashy?' " he said.

"It's not about me being flashy," he added. "It's about me purchasing what I want to purchase. It's my prerogative to purchase what I want to purchase. If I worked hard for it, I can purchase what I want to purchase."

Members of his church were traumatized by the robbery, Whitehead said. He also asked anyone with information to get in touch, saying he wants to be sure the gunmen can surrender safely to police.

According to his church's website, Whitehead is active in business as well as in the ministry, owning mortgage and real estate companies.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.