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Jewish groups offer reward for arrest of Portland cemetery vandals

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Jewish groups offer reward for arrest of Portland cemetery vandals

PORTLAND — The Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine and Anti-Defamation League New England Region are offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of vandals who painted swastikas on headstones at a local cemetery.

The vandalism at Mount Carmel Cemetery, on Hicks Street off Warren Avenue, was discovered the afternoon of Feb. 2 by Arthur Cope, a caretaker for nearby Mount Sinai Cemetery.

Swastikas were spray-painted in black on four headstones, according to Portland Police Capt. Ted Ross.

Ross said it is unclear when the most recent vandalism took place. Last Nov. 9, police received a report that a swastika had been painted near the entrance to the cemetery.

Emily Chaleff, JCA executive director, said some people believe the tombstones were defaced at the same time as the entrance, but Cope believed it happened within the last few weeks.

Although Mount Carmel is an old cemetery, Chaleff says it is frequently visited by local families whose relatives are buried there.

Police photographed and processed evidence at the scene, Ross said, and sent a report to the state attorney general for consideration as a hate or bias crime and to see if there have been similar incidents. A Portland detective who specializes in bias crimes is also investigating.

He said there are no suspects.

"There is nothing more we would like than to catch whoever did this," Ross said. "We're disgusted."

If police do arrest anyone, Ross said they face charges of having committed a hate or bias crime and aggravated criminal mischief.

Chaleff said the JCA is offering the $3,000 reward with the help of the ADL and a "concerned community member."

In the past when a hate crime has occurred against the local Jewish community, the JCA has organized a rally or prayer vigil.

"People thought strongly this time that offering a reward would work best to stop this sort of activity," Chaleff said. She proposed two options if the people responsible are caught.

"If it was a prank, we need to educate them why it is not a joke," Chaleff said. "If it wasn't, let the police deal with them."

Chaleff also said the greater Portland community has been supportive of the Jewish community after people heard about the vandalism.

"Everyone has been very outspoken in expressing their dismay and disgust," she said.

Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland released a statement last week, saying his prayers go out to people who feel threatened or shown disrespect by what he characterized as a "vile" crime.

"The Catholic community stands in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters as they endure such an appalling and contemptible act," he said. "When one religious group is singled out for public ridicule and persecution, we are all vulnerable to that possibility."

Anyone with information about the vandalism at Mount Carmel was asked to call police Detective Paul Murphy at 874-8533.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net