By Lisa Black
Nearly a dozen houses of worship in Gurnee and Waukegan have been vandalized over the past week, with an obscene “hateful message” scrawled in red on at least two buildings, officials announced Wednesday.
Police are asking the public for help identifying a young man caught on videotape in connection with their investigation, authorities stated in a joint news release.
Numerous religious institutions of various faiths “were graffiti’ed with hate crime literature,” Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley said during a news conference organized by leaders of a church and mosque that were targeted.
“Our entire (police) bureau is working on this case,” Motley said. “We do have leads and clues we are pursuing at this minute.”
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Christian Church and the Islamic Foundation North — less than a mile away from each other on O’Plaine Road in Waukegan — reported finding the same spray-painted message near the entry way to their building early Monday.
A unspecified number of Gurnee churches also have reported “criminal defacement” and “criminal damage” to property since late last week, according to police. Gurnee authorities declined to identify the institutions or type of vandalism for investigative purposes, officials said.
“I can tell you that it’s not a specific faith that’s being targeted,” said Tom Agos, crime analyst for the Gurnee Police Department. He said that it is too early to determine if the vandalism constitutes a hate crime.
“As the investigation proceeds and we are able to do some interviews and find motives, we can examine it at that time,” he said.
Investigators believe the suspect drives or has access to a silver or light-colored SUV, possibly a Nissan Rogue or Nissan Murano, also based on video footage, police said.
Leaders of the Waukegan church and mosque said they were not aware that other religious institutions had been targeted until Motley spoke at their news conference.
Both scrubbed or painted over the offensive messages on Monday.
“It hits you right in the gut when you see it,” said Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Metropolis of Chicago, the body that oversees about 60 Greek Orthodox churches in the Midwest.
He read a prepared statement that said, in part: “We feel the pain of our neighbors and friends at the Islamic Foundation North. We pray that the forces of love can overcome those who perpetuate hate and intolerance.”
After speaking outside the Greek Orthodox church and saying prayers, the leaders moved down the road to speak again at the Islamic Foundation North as a show of unity, they said.
Imam Matthew Ramadan included the vandal in his prayers.
“We will try our best to help him to come out of the darkness and into the light,” he said.
Ahmed Ali Syed, a leader at the Islamic Foundation North, said that he would like to talk to the person who committed the vandalism.
“I would be more than happy to meet that person and say, ‘C’mon, dude, can I help you?’ What’s the problem?’” he said.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, D.C., followed the news Wednesday and posted the information online.
“It sounds like you have an equal opportunity bigot,” Hooper said. “It happens all too often. It’s not just mosques, as we see in this incidence.”
Authorities don’t always treat such acts of vandalism as serious, Hooper said.
“They’ll often say it’s just drunken teenagers,” he said. “Well, drunken teenagers can have a hate motive. It looks like in this case they are taking it very seriously and acting appropriately.”