According to the police, 20-year-old Michael Torres entered the locked church, at 414 East 14th Street, last night and damaged multiple statues, crosses, and altar pieces.
This afternoon, a group was cleaning up the ravaged house of worship. All 14 stations of the cross were damaged, as was an icon depicting the Virgin Mary holding infant Jesus. Several statues were destroyed, including one of Our Lady of Fatima, a nativity scene, and a plaster statue of the Virgin Mary that, according to parish manager John Matcovich, was over 100 years old. It had been moved from Mary Help of Christians shortly before the East 12th Street church was demolished in 2013.
Matcovich, who had just returned from a meeting with the district attorney when we spoke to him today, said that Torres allegedly took the metal staff of an incense holder and used it as a battering ram to break the side doors of the church. Wounds indicated that he likely used his bare hands to wreak havoc, Matcovich said.
The church is equipped with a closed-circuit camera that filmed the whole scene. Police officers caught the alleged perpetrator after he found himself locked inside of the church’s cloister, said René Garcia, one of the deacons assigned to the parish.
Torres, a resident of the Marcy Houses in Bed-Stuy, was arrested shortly before 11pm and charged with burglary and criminal mischief, both of which will be prosecuted as hate crimes, the police said.
Torres seems to have attended one of the AA meetings hosted at the parish’s gym earlier that evening. “He was caught in the camera leaving the meeting with a group of people,” Garcia told us. “Then he went off to First Avenue and he came back and pulled the front door open. He forced the door.”
Motives for the desecration are still unclear. Antonio Vila, who works at the parish and was helping clean the mess today, described the alleged perp as “a young guy — he was mad with God, who knows.”
It isn’t the first time the church has been victimized: it was robbed of $11,000 in May of last year.
The church staff hopes to resume regular service tomorrow.