McALLEN — A woman has been taken into custody by McAllen police after three houses of worship in Hidalgo County were found vandalized Tuesday with several references of the occult and anti-Semitic imagery.
McAllen police have not yet released the identity of the woman, but Chief Victor Rodriguez confirmed her arrest has been tied to the three vandalism incidents reported Tuesday morning — at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle, the Temple Emmanuel synagogue in McAllen, and the Shri Nanak Hindu Temple in Edinburg.
“We have reason to believe that all incidents are related to each other,” Rodriguez said. “In other words, they’re all interconnected and that we have the same violator at each particular location.”
The chief said the woman’s name is being withheld pending charges being formally laid against her. But what those charges will be remains unclear.
The department has asked federal law enforcement to weigh in. “We have at least destruction (of property) and criminal mischief, but do we have others?” Rodriguez said.
“We’re conferring with our federal partners at FBI and those are evaluations that are going (on) today to decide the totality of charges we may look at or not,” the chief said
The entrances of all three houses of worship were defaced with incomprehensible messages spray painted in large block letters and referencing killers, New York, Greek and Roman gods, Nazi symbols and other words.
Written across a set of double doors at the San Juan basilica were the words “NEW YORK KILLER ZUES HADES” and “2FACE WITCH” (sic) in white spray paint. Another door was defaced with a swastika, and above it, the words “TIGER BBY” and “RAPEST CULT.”
In McAllen, members of the synagogue stared quietly at the gold letters scrawled across the temple’s doorway and surrounding walls as they awaited the arrival of additional police officers.
Here, too, a swastika had been painted on the wall, along with more mentions of “RAPEST CULT” and “TIGER’S BBY.” At the bottom of the double doors were depicted two hearts with arrows through them.
Not far away at the Hindu temple — secure behind a low concrete wall topped with ornate terracotta-colored scrollwork — the building was spared the graffiti, but the wall was not.
“HOLY SPIRIT FRIEND & NOT Death to the Wicked” read the graffiti along one portion of wall in the temple’s driveway. On the opposite side was, “Mason Jews Against Holy Spirit.”
And as drivers whirred past along Trenton Road, they were greeted with the words “Oilfield Killer” and “Judah H.E.B. KILLER.”
As grounds crews at the basilica worked to cover the graffiti with black plastic sheeting Tuesday morning, clues were already beginning to emerge about who may have defaced the church.
The Rev. Jorge Gomez, rector of the basilica, said security video appeared to show a woman walking around the property early Tuesday morning. “It was between 3 and 4 in the morning when the rain was pouring,” Gomez said. “So, it was in the midst of the storm when she came to do that.”
At the synagogue, the graffiti was discovered when employees came to unlock the temple Tuesday morning, Temple Emmanuel President Aladar Deutsch said while standing outside the synagogue.
“It’s sad that this day and age, that there’s still people that carry that kind of hatred,” Deutsch said.
However, with anti-Semitic imagery also being discovered at the Catholic basilica, Deutsch surmised the person responsible may have been trying to make a statement about religion in general, and not just the Jewish people.
“They put the same imagery on the basilica, so I don’t think they were basically going against the Jewish people. I think they’re just doing something against religion as a whole,” he said.
In Edinburg, the vandalism at the Hindu temple was discovered when worshippers began arriving for morning prayers, which had only recently started again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were all shocked that something like that happened,” said Parveen Jain, trustee and manager of the Shri Nanak Hindu Temple.
Jain said the house of worship has never been vandalized since its opening in 2010 by his parents, Harinder and Sudesh Jain. Some 400 families worship at the temple, Jain said.
“It looks like something pretty hateful, but it didn’t make much sense to us. We found out that the San Juan church got hit, and the Jewish temple got hit also. It’s very sad,” Jain said.
As the congregants of Temple Emmanuel begin the slow process of reopening their religious services to in-person worship again, Deutsch, too, remarked on the timing of the vandalism. “Especially with all the hard times going on right now, this is pretty much the last thing we needed at this point,” he said.
Rev. Gomez reflected on the moment as a call for the community to respect each other. “I invite the community to respect all places of worship — whether Catholic, non-Catholic, Jewish, Muslim. I think the foundation for peace is respecting of the holy places and the holy things for all the religions,” Gomez said.
Monitor staff writers Naxiely Lopez-Puente and Francisco E. Jiménez contributed to this report.