Three teens arrested in connection with swastika graffiti at synagogue

Vandals struck both the Beth Israel and Beth Abraham Synagogues on York Street in Bangor sometime early Friday night by spray painting offensive symbols and graffiti on the pillars and staircases of both buildings.
Vandals struck both the Beth Israel and Beth Abraham Synagogues on York Street in Bangor sometime early Friday night by spray painting offensive symbols and graffiti on the pillars and staircases of both buildings.
Posted Sept. 26, 2012, at 12:36 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 26, 2012, at 7:36 p.m.

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BANGOR, Maine — Police on Tuesday arrested three 17-year-old boys — two from Bangor and one from Orrington — for allegedly spray-painting swastikas and other graffiti on two synagogues on York Street. Shortly after his release, one of the same teens was arrested again early Wednesday for tagging a stop sign.

The two Bangor teenagers were charged with felony aggravated criminal mischief, while the Orrington boy was charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief/vandalism “directly related to graffiti over the past weekend and this summer,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said in a press release. “The three boys were mostly cooperative with Detective [Jim] Carr and as a result of his investigation many of the [open] cases of graffiti will be cleared.”

The teens were not identified because they are juveniles.

The synagogue graffiti included Nazi swastikas — an anti-Semitic symbol — and an upside-down cross with the numbers “666″ — known as a sign of the devil — placed across the top. The graffiti was applied Friday night to the steps and pillars of Congregation Beth Israel and Beth Abraham Synagogue on York Street while people were inside the building.

“Graffiti is one thing, but when it starts becoming swastikas on synagogues, it’s no longer just graffiti. It’s a hate crime,” Bangor attorney Norman Minsky said over the weekend.

Minsky, who had European relatives on his father’s side whose lives were affected by the Nazis during World War II, was attending services at Beth Israel when the initial vandalism occurred.

The vandalism happened during the Jewish High Holy Days, a 10-day period of prayer that starts with Rosh Hashanah — the first day of the Jewish year and anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve — and ends with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.

The case will be sent to the Maine Attorney General’s Office for review to see whether the crime is deemed a hate crime under state law covering the desecration and defacement of places of worship, Edwards said.

One of the Bangor teens was arrested again at about 2:45 a.m. Wednesday when officers responded to State Street for a different call and discovered fresh graffiti, followed by a report of four people spray painting a stop sign at the intersection of Garland and Essex streets.

Officers converged on the area and arrested the Bangor teenager and another 17-year-old boy from Hampden and charged them both with misdemeanor criminal mischief.

“It’s quite brazen to get arrested one day and go back out and do it again,” Edwards said of the Bangor teen arrested twice within a few hours.

After the four boys were arrested, they were brought to the police station and released into the custody of their parents or guardians.

Tips from the public led police to the teenagers in both cases, Edwards said.

“Someone called at 2:45 a.m. If they hadn’t called, we wouldn’t have caught them,” the sergeant said.

Edwards said that none of the teens had records. He did not reveal any motive for the vandalism of the synagogues.

Jewish leaders at the two synagogues were notified of the arrests.

“They are aware of it and they seemed pleased with the outcome,” Edwards said.

Also pleased with the outcome was the Anti-Defamation League, which issued a statement commending police and the community for their efforts to identify the alleged vandals and for their support of the synagogues.

“ADL would like to thank the Bangor Police Department for its dedication and skill in promptly and vigorously investigating this matter,” Derrek L. Shulman, regional director of ADL New England, said.

“We also thank the entire community and federal, state and local leaders for their support and strong response to this crime,” he said.

BDN writer Andrew Neff contributed to this report.

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