California church vandalized three times since Christmas, suspect apprehended

California church vandalized Security camera footage shows the same man committing all three acts of vandalism to the California church. | St. Mary Catholic Church YouTube screenshot

Among the latest in an ongoing series of attacks on Catholic churches in the United States, St. Mary Catholic Church in Escondido, California, has been vandalized three times since Christmas.

Father Scott Herrera, the church’s pastor, told CNA Thursday that he believes the vandal, who was caught on security cameras in all three incidents, is the same person.

Herrera said that police notified him that a suspect was apprehended in connection with the vandalism. The suspect’s identity, however, has not been revealed yet to the church. 

Herrera said that the man first vandalized the church on Dec. 25, 2022, and damaged a statue of the Virgin Mary and flower vases decorating the sanctuary. 

A video of the church’s security footage from the late hours of Christmas Day that was posted online by the church shows a man kicking over flower vases on the church’s property.

The man can then be seen taking a candle and throwing it at a crucifix, damaging it. The video shows the man breaking open a door of the church and walking inside. He is then seen approaching a stopped car on the road. The car can be seen leaving shortly after it was approached by the man.

The video can be seen below.

The same individual then visited the church again on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, Herrera said, and did more damage to property. 

A video posted online by the church of the Jan. 9 attack shows the man in a prayer garden with two other people. Once the two people leave, the man can be seen reaching into a trash can, pulling out a bottle, approaching a different statue of the Virgin Mary, and throwing the bottle at the statue.

The video can be seen below.

A video of the Jan. 10 attack shows a man approaching the church doors and throwing an object, shattering the church door’s glass windows. 

That video can be seen below.

Herrera told CNA that the vandal caused more than $20,000 in damages. The church, he said, will have to find another $20,000 to pay for security measures such as new cameras, a guard, and door locks.

The priest told CNA that while he considers the crimes a “hate crime” because the religious images were targeted, he hopes that the perpetrator of these crimes will seek help if needed.

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“God forgives, and we forgive,” Herrera said. 

Ana Cristina Bolanos, a parishioner, told NBC San Diego that she was inside the church during the attack, when the vandal kicked over multiple flower vases, smashed a display case and statue of Mary, and threw a vase at a crucifix.

“I didn’t know how to react. I did want to cry, to be honest,” she said.

People have visited the location of the vandalism and lit candles and offered prayers, according to NBC.

Bolanos said, “I am actually a bit afraid to come because I come every day. I’m like, ‘What if something happens?’”

She is a daily Mass goer, however, and said: “I come with the strength of God. I will come and even if it happens, I will be here.”

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