PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) - One police agency on the southern Peninsula is stepping up patrols around houses of worship this weekend. This follows an act of vandalism at the University AME Zion Church last week.
The church’s pastor, Rev. Kaloma Smith, says the defacing took place late at night last Friday, in a breezeway on the grounds in Palo Alto.
“America is very gauged on race. But this place was set aside for worship. And they desecrated this place for what it was supposed to be and that’s for worship,” Rev. Smith said.
Witnesses say a vandal spray-painted hateful words on both bathrooms, then ransacked a storage bin.
“When you’ve been in a place for 54 years and you’ve never experienced something, it comes as a shock to your system,” said Smith. “There’s everything from shock, to anger, to wondering why. So it’s definitely been a traumatic thing.”
Palo Alto police say two days after the vandalism at AME Zion, a similar crime at a grocery store about a half-mile away. Detectives believe the same suspect, a man in his mid-30s to early 40s, thin build with blonde streaks in his hair and wearing a red puffy jacket, is responsible for both crimes.
“We’ve collected two pieces of evidence and that’s currently being analyzed right now,” said Palo Alto Police Department Sergeant Craig Lee.
He says the department will increase patrols around houses of worship this weekend.
There are six sanctuaries along a mile-plus portion of Middlefield Road.
Investigators say in light of recent attacks last weekend— a church shooting outside Dallas that killed two and a machete attack the day before, in New York City’s northern suburbs which wounded five people, Palo Alto’s finest are taking steps to be proactive.
“It provides a high visibility for our officers to hopefully encounter the suspect. And also maybe to mitigate any other copy-cats that might want to create vandalism,” said Lee.
With the graffiti cleared Reverend Smith said his church will also upgrade security and change protocols so that no one is on the grounds alone. But he said the crime won’t impact the church’s mission to reach people and heal souls.
“Every public act of desecration needs to be responded to with a public act of solidarity,” said Smith.
He said a visible sign of solidarity will come Sunday in a special 9:30 a.m. service at the church where police and community stakeholders are invited.