Churches suffer vandalism and possible hate crimes

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A holiday weekend celebrating equality and unity was instead plagued by possible vandalism at some Hudson Valley churches.

A church member at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Mount Vernon tells News 12 that the Blessed Mother statue was on the ground and beheaded on Thursday.

Then on Sunday, the rest of the statues were also found knocked down. "I'm devastated. My heart is broken for myself and the people of the parish and the people of the community. Why would somebody do this?" asks parishioner Roxanne Williams.

Williams was a member of the church all her life. Her own parents married at this same grotto.  She first learned about the damage Thursday, receiving a photo of the beheaded Blessed Mother statue. "Vandals didn't just destroy religious statues they even knocked down planters and ripped out piping," says Williams.

The church, over a century old, closed their doors in 2015 in a merger with St. Mary's and is only open for special occasion masses. However, the grotto was still visited regularly and even decorated for Christmas. "People come here to pray on a daily basis. People come from the neighborhood, our faithful parishioners would come here stop by."

With the church closed, Williams doubts the shrine will be repaired, leaving a once beautiful religious space destroyed. "Why would anyone do this? I feel this is a hate crime."

This comes on the heels of a welcome sign in front of the St. John's Episcopal Church in Pleasantville that was vandalized late Friday. It's not known if this was a hate crime but church leaders think it could be because it's the second act of vandalism since they hung the pride flag last Spring. In the first incident the pride flag was ripped off the sign. "We need to always be cognizant that there are hate groups setting up camp in Westchester County and that as parents teachers and community members we have to be vigilant and take these things seriously," says church director Mary Gregories.

Sen. Peter Harckham posted about the vandalism on Facebook, calling it "a serious crime and an affront to its residents."

He also says, "The recent wave of destruction and defacement aimed at houses of worship, including those that post the rainbow pride flag, and religious symbols in the Hudson Valley and across our nation cannot be tolerated nor waved away as mindless mischief. I know an investigation is taking place, but it's time for all of us to come together and determine what needs to be done in order to drive hate from our communities."

The sign has since been torn down. A community member is repairing it for the church. It is expected to be repaired and back up today.

Anyone with information in either case is urged to contact police.

User: Senator Pete Harckham To: link
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