Report reveals new details in religious vandalism case

McALLEN —  A police report from the McAllen Police Department is shedding light on the details surrounding the investigation of vandalism to the Temple Emanuel synagogue here and similar activity at other religious locations.

Erica Yme Garza, 38, of McAllen was arrested Tuesday and charged with criminal mischief for her suspected role in the spray painting of the Jewish temple, for which she received a $15,000 bond.

According to the police report, investigators first learned of the vandalism when the synagogue’s president, Aladar Deustch, called to report the graffiti, which included several references of the occult and anti-Semitic imagery on the front door and part of a wall on Tuesday morning. 

The investigators learned of similar vandalization at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in San Juan through social media and news reports.

They were able to make contact with a woman who had seen the news Tuesday and claimed to have more information.

According to the report, the woman who came forward to police informed authorities she was riding her bicycle when she saw another woman yelling in front of the McAllen synagogue.

The woman took video of the incident, and of a black Ford Fusion parked in front of the synagogue.

The witness also gave a description of the woman. Investigators said that her description matched that of the woman captured on surveillance video at the basilica.

Police shared the description with Deustch, who said a woman matching that description had been at the synagogue before, identifying her as Garza, the police report read.

According to the report, Deutsch informed investigators that Garza had once submitted a membership application to the synagogue. He told police that she was well-remembered because “she would get upset and start to yell anti religion words,” the police report read.

Investigators obtained a copy of Garza’s membership application and used it to identify her. An investigation into Garza’s history showed a prior arrest, which allowed police to obtain a booking photo to positively identify Garza as the woman in the surveillance video spray painting the basilica.

Police traveled to Garza’s home where they found a black Ford Fusion that appeared to match the one in the video shared with investigators, the report read.

Inside the apartment, police also found clothes that appeared to match those worn by the suspect in the surveillance video. Cans of red and gold spray paint were also found at the apartment.

Garza made her initial appearance at the McAllen Municipal Court on Wednesday.

On Thursday, she was brought to San Juan for her involvement in the vandalism case at the basilica there. She was charged with criminal mischief of a place of worship and received a $25,000 bond. 

The damage to the basilica is estimated to be over $5,000. Meanwhile, repair costs at the synagogue are estimated to exceed $10,000, police records show.

As previously reported, Edinburg police have acknowledged similarities between the vandalism at the basilica and synagogue with another case of religious vandalism at the Shri Nanak Center and Shiv Shakti Temple there, but did not confirm whether Garza is specifically suspected in the Hindu temple’s defacing.

Edinburg police said that case remains under investigation.

Garza remains in custody at the Hidalgo County jail.

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