IRWIN (KDKA) — Church burglars in Westmoreland County got an unpleasant surprise when they opened a safe.

The thieves broke in through the basement door of the administration building at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Irwin.

They got away with about $7,000.

The burglars rode upstairs in an elevator and broke into an office where they pried loose a safe and took it downstairs to the kitchen.

Police say the thieves successfully pried open the safe, but got more than they were looking for. Because it was an older model safe, it was booby-trapped with pepper spray that went off when the safe was opened.

Investigators believe the thieves used the empty water bottles found at the scene to cleanse their burning eyes.

“Originally we thought it was refrigerate from the freezer being left open all night that leaked into the building,” Irwin Police Chief Joseph Pocsatko said. “After doing some research on this particular safe, these safes were equipped with a failsafe. If someone breached them, tear gas would be released.”

Because of the size of the safe, police believe three or four people had to have been involved in the heist.

Irwin police ask anyone with information to give them a call.

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