Cops seek suspect in church, mosque vandalism - FOX 13 News

Cops seek suspect in church, mosque vandalism

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Police released this surveillance image of a suspect in a criminal defacement case that has targeted nearly a dozen houses of worship in Gurnee and Waukegan. / photo from Gurnee and Waukegan police Police released this surveillance image of a suspect in a criminal defacement case that has targeted nearly a dozen houses of worship in Gurnee and Waukegan. / photo from Gurnee and Waukegan police
Police believe the suspect in the case may be driving the light-colored SUV pictured, possibly a Nissan Rogue or Nissan Murano. / photo from Gurnee police and Waukegan police Police believe the suspect in the case may be driving the light-colored SUV pictured, possibly a Nissan Rogue or Nissan Murano. / photo from Gurnee police and Waukegan police
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

At least a dozen churches and houses of worship in the northern suburbs were vandalized this past week with hateful graffiti. Police are asking for help in identifying the man they suspect is responsible.

Police are releasing few details about which churches in particular were targeted, but we have learned from the pastor at Bethel Lutheran that his church was one of those that was vandalized in the last week. Police believe the same person is responsible for the graffiti on all 12 houses of worship.

The incidents are not targeting specific faiths, said Tom Agos, a crime prevention specialist with the Gurnee Police Department. Some Christian churches, a Greek Orthodox Church and a mosque have been among those vandalized.

"We really want to take care of this while it's still a criminal damage and a defacement before this could escalate," Waukegan Police Commander Joe Florip said. Some of the incidents in Gurnee also involved criminal damage to property.

At Bethel Lutheran Church, doors were spray-painted with upside down crosses and smiley faces. On one door you can see the remnants of the vandalism, which was cleaned up within hours of it being discovered early Friday morning.

"I didn't think of it as violent, I just thought of it as something that somebody is reacting against our faith in Jesus. I would prefer to have dialogue," said Pastor Ben Squires of Bethel Lutheran Church.

The first church that was vandalized was Gurnee Community Church, just a mile east on Grand Avenue, last Wednesday. Red upside down crosses were spray-painted on doors there as well.

Gurnee police said the suspect may drive a silver or light-colored SUV, possibly a Nissan Rogue or Murano. A surveillance photo was taken of the vehicle at the intersection of Washington and Hunt Club Road, just before 2 AM Monday after another one of the vandal's attacks.

On Wednesday, leaders from the Greek Orthodox Church and the Islamic Foundation North, which are located right next to one another in Waukegan, stood together against the hateful graffiti. Both facilities had an expletive written about their faith along with a smiley face.

Jaseem Anwer, vice president of the Islamic North Foundation mosque in Waukegan, said he doesn't feel there is any religious tension in the area and they have never felt threatened coming to pray.

"I'm just shocked it could happen," said Christine Palmer, who sits on the board of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Christian Church, which was also targeted.

"Together, with our local brothers and sisters in the community, we will help even the person who may have done that…we will try to explain it to him the right way," said Imam Ahmed Ali Syed of Islamic Foundation North.

"We are saddened by this spree of hate and offer support to the religious communities that were targeted," said American Jewish Committee Chicago Director Amy Stoken. "These reprehensible acts are an affront to all of us. We call upon any person having any knowledge of this crime to come forward to law enforcement to help bring the perpetrators to justice."

The Rev. Stanley Davis of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago echoed that sentiment. "We will stand with each other at this time of crisis for the common good," he said.

Gurnee police said there's no reason to suspect there would be any violence associated with the vandalism.

"Sort of hits you in the gut when you see the hate and the intolerance. So, I didn't expect it. I don't know why I didn't expect it, but we've never been victim of such hate before," said Bishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago.

Anyone who can identify him, or has information on the incidents should call Gurnee police at (847) 599-7000 or Waukegan police at (847) 782-2369.

Tipsters can also call Lake County Crime Stoppers at (847) 623-2222, and may qualify for a cash reward.

"I can assure you we do have leads and clues we are pursuing at this very moment and we will bring this to a quick conclusion," Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley said. "We have our entire detective bureau working on the case and these other incidences."

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