Three young men shouting "We are the KKK!" terrorized an Hispanic woman working as a custodian in a Columbia interfaith center Monday night, shoved her against a wall and smashed window of her car, Howard County police said yesterday.
The assault began shortly before 9:45 p.m. as Nurys Gonzalez, 44, walked out of a restroom in the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, where she has worked three years. Police said she was confronted by three men whose hooded sweat shirts covered their faces.
One of the men pushed Ms. Gonzalez into a wall and shouted, "We are the KKK! Get out of the way!" reported Officer Michael Sherman, a county police spokesman.
The three men were described as apparently white, in their early 20s or late teens, and wearing blue jeans and dark hooded sweat shirts.
After the men left the center, Ms. Gonzalez went to the parking lot and found that a window on the passenger side of her car had been smashed and several blankets had been taken from the back seat. An exterior dent looked as though it had been caused by a kick, the police said.
Ms. Gonzalez, a native of the Dominican Republic who is a U.S. citizen and has lived in this country for three years, speaks little English. Her 19-year-old son, Harving Rodriguez, said his mother "was scared to death" by the intruders.
"She couldn't get a look at their faces because they were either covered with hoods or masks," Mr. Rodriguez said. "Whether they were with the KKK or were just kids trying to bully her around, it doesn't matter. If I'd have caught them, I'd have killed them."
Mr. Rodriguez said the group taunted his mother for several minutes, laughing and saying, "You shouldn't work here. We'll be back, we're from the Ku Klux Klan."
Police said they planned increased foot patrols in the area of the interfaith center in the 10400 block of Twin Rivers Road near Roslyn Rise Apartments. Police said they also were questioning neighborhood residents about the incident.
"We're really not sure who these guys were, but with any incident like this, we don't want to see it continue," Officer Sherman said. "It could have been kids just horsing around, but they really put a scare into her."
Ian Paris, the building supervisor of the interfaith center and a member of the Roman Catholic congregation that holds services there, said its doors are usually left open at night.
Mr. Paris said Ms. Gonzalez, who lives in Columbia, called him immediately after the assault Monday night.
"It's alarming that any person be terrorized to the point of tears like this," Mr. Paris said. "You would especially hope that it wouldn't happen" at the interfaith center, where between 3,000 and 4,000 worshipers in several denominations meet each Sunday.
The interfaith centers were part of the original plans for Columbia. In recent years, some denominations have built more traditional church buildings, but the interfaith centers are still popular religious gathering places throughout the planned city's nine villages.