By Shelley Grieshop
ST. MARYS -- Charity to an African American may have spawned racially-motivated violence at a St. Marys church two months ago.
Police are looking into that possible motive, but still have no suspects for the vandalism that occurred overnight June 1 at First Church of God in St. Marys. The church's pastor, the Rev. Ben Brigham, estimated damage to the structure at 500 Defiance Road at $1,000, inside and out.
Police were called to the building at 8:45 a.m. June 1 after a city employee noticed disturbing spray-painted images on the outside of the structure. Racial marks and words such as swastikas and "Hitler was here" appeared painted in white on the south side of the church near the main entrance.
"KKK," "white only" and "judgment day is coming" were some of the graffiti printed on the south and east side of the brick building, along with profanity and references to marijuana. The inside was ransacked but nothing appeared to be missing, police noted.
"We've had some leads and we continue to check out anything we get, but so far nothing has panned out," St. Marys Police Chief Greg Foxhoven told The Daily Standard this week. "I think it's only a matter of time." Foxhoven said the spray-painted words and symbols were found at a level on the building that suggests they were made by either tall children or perhaps adults.
Brigham told investigators that financial help was given to an African-American who attended services there several months ago. The man reportedly moved out of the area prior to the vandalism. Brigham doesn't believe the man's presence in the church caused controversy.
"I think it was random. We're out here on the edge of town, off the beaten path," he said.
The pastor said he heard a similar incident that occurred in Kettering shortly after the local vandalism, in which multiple cars were spray-painted with the same remarks and symbols.
Brigham, when asked by police, said he didn't believe any of his congregation would have been upset about the charity offered the African-American, nor would any of them vandalize the church for any reason. The pastor described the congregation of about 60 as "friendly, warm and inviting."
Brigham, a Missouri native who graduated from Wapakoneta High School in 1983, said the morning the vandalism was discovered he contacted congregation members to warn them about a threat painted on an east window: "I will come on Sunday." Attendance was down by nearly 50 percent that following Sunday but has picked up since, he said.
Police believe the vandal or vandals forced their way into the church through a screened window in the kitchen area. It appeared a candle and holder, taken from a table, was used by the intruders once inside. Candle wax was found in several areas inside the building.
A fire extinguisher was reportedly used inside and left a fine white dusting across the carpet near the rear entrance of the church. Numerous pieces of electronics were left undisturbed near the pulpit in the sanctuary. Drawers and cupboards were found hanging open in several areas of the church including the pastor's office.
Police were unable to locate spray-paint cans at the scene. An area K-9 was initially used to look for suspects inside shortly after officers arrived. The animal also was used to search for trace evidence inside the church, police said. The suspect(s) apparently used paper towels to wipe countertops and tables inside before discarding them on the kitchen floor area.
Brigham said the disturbing incident did bring about some good. An African American church from Lima contacted the St. Marys church and offered their prayers and support after hearing about the situation.
"If nothing else, it's helped bring us all together," he added.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact St. Marys Police Department at 419-394-2325.