ANNANDALE, Va. - A church in Annandale has endured racist graffiti, slashed church pews and broken glass and windows in a span of just over a month. The Bethlehem Lutheran Church has now been hit seven times and police believe it could all be connected.
The incidents have been escalating with some of them happening only one or two days apart from each other. The culprits have left behind tens of thousands of dollars in damage and has even sent a young church volunteer to the hospital.
"It was very shocking obviously and there has been a run of emotions at first," said Bethlehem Lutheran Church President Kristin Haynes.
Dozens of parishioners spent their Tuesday evening cleaning up after vandals smashed and slashed through their church sanctuary in the most recent incident. They also left behind racist messages of hate this time.
"The fact that it has escalated to the point where they now have a signature on it, it makes us wonder what their ultimate goal is," said Pastor Elijah Mwitanti.
He said the vandalism incidents started in May and many of the times, the culprit breaks into the building. So far, they have smashed more than a dozen windows throughout the church. They have even cut cords to the church's sound system. But they have never stolen anything.
One time, it even got violent.
"The fourth time would be when they encountered the young man downstairs and this person grabbed the fire extinguisher and hit it on the head of the young man and he took off," said Mwitanti. "The young man ended up at the ER. Thankfully, he was okay."
Meanwhile, members of this mainly white congregation are concerned for their safety.
"We won't let hate win," said Haynes.
"The Lutheran Church in general is very intentional about being welcoming and it is sad that may trouble some people," said Pator Mwitanti. "But what it does is it just energizes us to do even more and we hope that the person that is doing this would come to the point where if it is just something they are troubled by in the mind, ironically we would be here to help. It doesn't have to end up in a situation where somebody gets hurt. Somebody gets killed or worse."
The church has been working with police to beef up security at the church.
Anyone with information regarding these incidents are asked to call the Mason District Station at 703-256-8035. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by visiting http://www.fairfaxcrimesolvers.org, or calling 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). They can also be sent in via text by texting "TIP187" plus the message to CRIMES (274637). Text STOP to 274637 to cancel, or HELP to 274637 for help.