Cops have collared a suspect who was caught on tape vandalizing two statues outside of a Bayside church on Friday evening.
On Feb. 23 at around 6 p.m., an unidentified suspect vandalized two religious statues outside of American Martyrs Church, located at 79-43 Bell Blvd. The incident was captured on the church’s surveillance system.
According to pastor Father Frank Schwarz, a Blessed Mother statue was dragged 25 feet from its base near the church’s rectory and left face down on the ground.
The suspect then took the shell of a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue nearby and threw it down a flight of steps leading to the rectory basement. The statue dropped about 12 feet and shattered at the bottom. The entire incident lasted about six minutes in total.
“He just walks away like it’s nothing,” Schwarz said while watching footage of the suspect fleeing the scene on foot.
But two hours after the incident, law enforcement sources said they caught the alleged vandal, identified as 26-year-old Sung Lee of Bellerose, standing outside of American Martyrs. He was charged with criminal contempt, aggravated harassment and criminal mischief.
Detectives later tacked on additional charges of aggravated harassment and criminal mischief, both as hate crimes, which would add jail time upon conviction.
Police sources said they did not yet know what spurred Lee to allegedly vandalize the church statues.
American Martyrs, which serves a congregation consisting of about 1,200 households, has been the target of vandalism before, according to Schwarz.
In August, a young man through bricks through one of the church’s windows and was later apprehended by police. In December, the fingers of a statue of St. Isaac Jogues in the church’s prayer garden were discovered bent backwards. In October and earlier this month, the church’s large “Bingo” sign along Union Turnpike sustained damaged.
Schwarz said he informed the congregation about the vandalism during the weekend Masses.
“When I told [the congregation], you could hear the sighs,” he said. “A lot of people were visibly upset. We still have the statue out the back, and when Masses let out, people went by to pray.”
The pastor noted that some community members have already approached him about paying to replace the statues.
“I realize that it’s only a statue, but it has value to us because it’s a representation of something that’s very dear to us Catholics: the blessed mother and the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” he said. “These are things we have great devotion to, and to just blatantly damaged something like that would be upsetting for anybody.”
Robert Pozarycki contributed to the story.