BETHESDA, Md. (7News) — Three neighboring churches on Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda were targeted by vandals and arsonists over the weekend, according to Montgomery County officials.
“People are coming in today shocked,” said Patricia Zapor, Director of Media Relations for the Archdiocese of Washington . “There were some small attempts to burn some of the pews. Some books were shredded, and the stations of the cross were removed from the wall.”
The arson triggered the fire detection system at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church at 9601 Old Georgetown Road around 1:55 a.m. Sunday.
That’s when the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue arrived – and put the fire out. The cleanup began Sunday morning.
“Of course, they are concerned they were allegedly targeted,” said Peter Piringer with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.
Although the investigation is ongoing --- Montgomery County Fire and Rescue said there are similarities between the arson and vandalism at St. Jane and the arson and vandalism that happened just a few minutes down the road at North Bethesda United Methodist Church on the 10100 block of Old Georgetown Road.
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“In both cases, there were some associated vandalisms,” said Piringer. “There are similarities: Not too far apart. Relatively same time of night occurring. And both being churches.”
The arson happened at North Bethesda United Methodist Church on Saturday at 2:35 in the morning.
“Again this was an arson. Intentionally set fires,” said Piringer.
And that’s not all, a third church was vandalized on the same road. Investigators found headstones broken and wood pieces shattered at Wildwood Baptist Church in the 10200 block of Old Georgetown Road.
“We are a community of faith. And we are deeply committed to resilience and recovery,” said Zapor. “This is a classic example of being tested by fire. And the St. Jane Parish community will rise and will come through this in fine form.”
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Sunday's masses are being held in the Christopher Hall Gymnasium, according to the parish website.
St. Jane’s Sunday mass ended with this prayer.
“Pray for whoever would do something like this,” Zapor said. “That their hearts be healed.”
County Executive Marc Elrich released this statement:
"Attacks on houses of worship in Montgomery County are completely unacceptable. The criminal activity that took place over the weekend does not represent the values of inclusion and equity that we are striving for in the communities of this County. We pride ourselves on our diversity of religious communities. A hateful incident against one community impacts us all.
My thoughts are with the leaders and congregants of St. Jane de Chantal Catholic Parish, North Bethesda United Methodist Church, and Wildwood Baptist Church during this very difficult and concerning to the institutions and the families they serve. We have reached out to each of the churches to see if they need any assistance to help them during this time.
I have talked with our Fire Chief and Police Chief and have asked them to keep me updated on the progress of the investigation. We encourage anyone with any information to call the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services Arson tip line at 240-277-2263. For more information on the faith community and hate crime response resources we encourage all our religious leaders to reach out to Faith Liaison Kate Chance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hate in any form has no home in Montgomery County.”
Montgomery County authorities are asking for the public’s help if they have any information on what led to the vandalism and arsons at the churches on Old Georgetown Road. Anyone with information on these incidents is asked to call the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Arson Tipline at (240) 777-2263.