The pastor of a 95-year-old predominantly black church in Howard County says racial hatred was the motivation behind vandalism at the church this week. The vandals set a Bible afire and did at least $2,000 in other damage, the pastor says.
The incident this week was the third time in three months that vandals had broken into Simpson United Methodist Church on Hardy Road near Lisbon, according to police and the church's pastor, the Rev. Jane Jenkins.
Howard County police have charged a 19-year-old man from Gaithersburg and two Mount Airy youths, ages 16 and 17, with breaking and entering, attempted arson and destruction of property in the break-in, which occurred early Monday.
The two younger suspects were released to the custody of their parents, police said. The adult, Adam Crigger, was being held at the Howard County Detention Center.
The suspects are believed responsible for break-ins in June and July when intruders shattered beer bottles inside the church and stole a microwave oven, amplifiers, microphones and other items, police say. No charges have been filed in those incidents.
Police say that between midnight Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday someone broke into the church and broke bottles and dishes and melted Christmas candles on the pews.
The names of "heavy metal" bands and pentacles -- five-pointed stars used in satanic worship -- were written on the walls.
"They turned the valves of a propane stove on in the basement and set a Bible on fire in hopes the church would blow up," says Detective Michael Sherman, a police spokesman.
"I think they grabbed the Bible on the way out," Sherman says, adding that police don't think the intruders are practitioners of Satanism.
"They said they were in there and started drinking and things got out of hand," Sherman says.
A citizen's tip led police to the suspects, who confessed Monday night, police say.
Jenkins estimates the damage at $2,000, much of it in the basement. She says she thinks insurance will cover the loss.
She says she is pleased that arrests have been made in the case, but she expresses concern about what was done and why.
She says that although the intruders left no racial epithets on the walls, "I think it's more than drinking . . . I think it's racially motivated."
Police say the church was the only one vandalized in the area.
Jenkins says she hopes this week's incident will be the last. She says the church has no plans to increase security.