A Bellevue man is in custody, accused of vandalizing a church and assaulting one of its staff members.
Bellevue Police were called to St. Louise Parish Church, after a man was seen spray painting the outside of the church and on a statue of the Virgin Mary. He was also caught on surveillance cameras breaking through two glass doors with a large rock.
Bellevue Police Captain Darryl McKinney, says the man’s actions are a clear hate crime.
“Some of the comments that he actually spray painted on the buildings were anti-Catholic remarks,” says Capt. McKinney. “It definitely fits the category of a hate crime.”
The man, believed to be intoxicated, used spray-paint to write phrases like ‘religion of hate’, ‘woman haters’, and ‘genocide guilt’ on the outside of church buildings.
Father Gary Zender, who leads the church, explains his initial reaction to the vandalism. “It’s a sacred place. Definitely. And people come here to encounter peace and the presence of God. And this feels the opposite of that.”
When the suspect was confronted at the church about his vandalism, he then directed his paint at the member of staff. “He took one of the cans of spray paint and actually spray-painted the person in the face and in the shirt and the side of the head,” says Capt. McKinney.
Shortly after the incident, Police found the man walking away from the church. Police say he was carrying a bag with cans of spray-paint inside. The suspect also had a hand injury, believed to be from trying to smash the church doors with his fist. He was taken to a local hospital before he was booked into jail.
Father Gary offered words of empathy, not anger, ahead of Tuesday’s evening mass. “A lot of people are hurting. Including the man who did this. So just on the human level, I connect with that struggle.”
Bellevue Police said they will increase their patrols of St. Louise Parish, and other churches in the area. The incident comes after similar acts of vandalism at Catholic churches across the country. Catholicism has traditionally opposed abortion, and Bellevue Police believe the suspect in Tuesday’s vandalism was reacting to the reversal of Roe V. Wade.
“We all have the right to free speech; marching and stating our beliefs. But there’s a line that can be crossed pretty easily. And it’s never okay to damage people’s property, or injure somebody, or attack somebody. No matter what your beliefs are,” says Capt. McKinney.
Capt. McKinney says he doesn’t want Tuesday’s hate crime to reflect the community he serves. “We don’t accept hate in Bellevue. We want everyone to be accepted. It’s important for people to feel safe in their community.”
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