Police have now labeled the acts bias crimes.
FBI agents are assisting in the investigation of a rash of vandalism cases at Roman Catholic churches in Camden and Burlington Counties.
About three dozen religious statues have been damaged at six churches in Cherry Hill, Mount Laurel, and Evesham over the last week. Local authorities have labeled the acts bias crimes, though the intent of the person or persons involved remains unclear.
The FBI’s Philadelphia field office confirmed Tuesday that it was aiding South Jersey authorities, but a spokesman for the agency said the office had not opened its own investigation. Under federal law, the FBI could take over if the crimes were determined to be specifically anti-Catholic and not simply vandalism.There have been no arrests, and authorities are uncertain whether the incidents have been committed by the same person. But on Tuesday, police released a description of a man wanted for questioning.
He was spotted Thursday night outside St. Joan of Arc Church in Evesham before statues there were discovered to have been damaged, officials said.
He is described as white, in his late 20s or early 30s, about six feet tall and thin, and with shoulder-length, wavy brown hair. The man was seen driving an older-model tan or beige sedan with square taillights, possibly an import, police said.
The vandalism began early last week when statues at two Cherry hill churches were shattered and in some cases had their heads knocked off, possibly with a bat.
Later in the week, churches were targeted in Evesham and in Mount Laurel, where 33 statues in the grotto of St. John Neumann Church were damaged. In some cases, the statues’ hands were broken off.
Photo: by Thomas L. McDonald