SAN LEANDRO, Calif. (Azenith Smith/KTVU) - A place of worship targeted and parishioners are dumbfounded as to why would someone shoot up a sacred religious symbol. Police arrested a 32-year-old man in what they're now investigating as a hate crime at St. Felicitas Church in San Leandro.
The suspect has been identified as Eric Millen, from San Leandro.
The statue has been on the church property since 1958 when the school was founded. It was vandalized before but never to this extent.
The statue of Saint Felicitas sits outside the school bearing its name in San Leandro. The Christian martyr is a symbol of hope and protection for the parish. However, to authorities, it's now a target of hate.
"It's just very upsetting someone would come and do such a thing and hurt the statue," said Kris Stuber of San Leandro.
"My mom heard the gunshots and we heard the police say get on the ground get on the ground," said Laura Braun of San Leandro.
Around 2 p.m. Saturday, in broad daylight, police said a neighbor reported gunfire at St. Felicitas Church. There, they discovered the suspect had fired eight rounds into the statue. One bullet hit a flag pole and into the school itself. None of the houses behind the school were hit. The bullets pierced the elbow area of the statue.
"Surprising, completely surprising," said Lt. Ted Henderson of San Leandro Police. "In 22 years, I've encountered a lot of stuff but this is a first."
Police spotted the suspect who they say lives in the area. He refused police orders. Police said a wrestling match then ensued between him and five officers. Police ultimately recovering a handgun on him. It's unclear his affiliation, if any, with the church.
"There's some evidence that suggests this is a hate crime," said Henderson. "There's no inflammatory words left on the premises or derogatory terms left on the premises."
Police would not reveal what evidence they found. Churchgoers are thankful it happened on a Saturday, not Sunday when masses are all day. Attending Mass Sunday, they left saddened a beloved statue was damaged and disrespected.
"Just not what I expected at all," said Braun. "This is my church. One of my children went to school here. It's just not what I expected."
"It's awful to see," said Matthew Stuber of San Leandro. "To do that to something that represents God and people that respect it."
"You can't even hang out a church parking lot and have something like this happened," said Kris Stuber.
Parishioners said the statue had been hit by vandals before. Its nose and sword were broken off. Police are not releasing the suspect's identity until charges are filed. Police said the gun was not registered and the suspect had a prior criminal history for vandalism.
Anyone with information is asked to call San Leandro police at (510) 577-2740.