Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying a “person of interest” caught on camera damaging an Our Lady of Fatima statue outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 5.

Police on Wednesday, Dec. 8, released black-and-white surveillance footage of the incident that shows a man wearing a mask approaching the Marian statue at 10:58 p.m. The man steps up to the statue, withdraws a mallet or hammer-like tool, and appears to strike at Our Lady’s hands. He climbs back down only to step up again and repeatedly whack at her face, sending pieces of marble flying. As he leaves, he appears to pick up and carry away the statue’s cut-off hands. You can watch the full video below.

A gathering was planned at the statue at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, immediately following the 5:15 p.m. Mass at the basilica, to recite the rosary in reparation for the attack.

Police said the incident is not currently deemed to be a hate crime.

“At this time, the incident is not being investigated as a hate crime,” a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) told CNA. “However, the classification is subject to change if our investigation determines a clear motive.” 

A copy of the police report obtained by CNA notes that the statue’s praying hands, face, and the cross on her crown were damaged. It lists two offenses: the destruction of property as a felony and unlawful entry. One section of the form offers detectives the option to list incidents as “suspected hate crimes.” The police selected “no.” The statue has a declared value of $250,000, according to the police report.

The MPD’s website summarizes a hate crime as “not a crime, but rather a possible motive for a crime.”

"First and foremost, the incident must be a crime,” the site says. “Moreover, a hate crime is not really a specific crime; rather it is a designation that makes available to the court an enhanced penalty if a crime demonstrates the offender’s prejudice or bias based on the actual or perceived traits of the victim.”

More in US

“Needless to say, it can be difficult to establish a motive for a crime, and even more difficult for prosecutors to prove it in court beyond a reasonable doubt,” the MPD continues. “Therefore the classification as a bias-related crime is subject to change as an investigation proceeds — even as prosecutors continue an investigation.”

In Washington, D.C., under the Bias-Related Crime Act of 1989, the incident must also meet the standards for a “bias-related crime” or demonstrate “an accused’s prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibility, homelessness, physical disability, matriculation, or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act.”

The Metropolitan Police Department asks that anyone who can identify the individual or has knowledge of the incident call police at (202) 727-9099 or text their tip line at 50411.

The statue, formed out of Carrara marble and valued at $250,000, is located in the basilica’s Rosary Walk and Garden. Security personnel discovered the damage when opening up the basilica on Monday morning, Dec. 6. 

“We have contacted authorities and, though we are deeply pained by this incident, we pray for the perpetrator through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Fatima,” Monsignor Walter Rossi, the rector of the basilica, previously said of the incident.

“Subsequent to reviewing security camera footage, a male was found to have entered the locked garden by scaling its fence Sunday night,” Rossi said. “He then proceeded to cut off the hands of the Blessed Mother and attack her face with a hammer. As he left, he took her hands.”