Police have arrested a 30-year-old man who said he hurled rocks and left offensive messages about homosexuality at several churches in one west metro community due to "his anger with God."
Police in Buffalo say doors and windows were broken with rocks between noon and 3 p.m. Monday at four church buildings -- St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventist, Hosanna Lutheran (Missouri Synod) and Buffalo United Methodist.
Posters with inflammatory messages dealing with religion and sexual orientation were left starting Saturday night at two of those churches -- St. Francis and Hosanna Lutheran -- and two others, Zion Lutheran (ELCA) and Buffalo Presbyterian, said Chief Mitchell P. Weinzetl.
On Wednesday night, police arrested the man, who is from rural Buffalo, after announcing earlier that they had identified a "person of interest," based on surveillance camera images of him. The suspect was being held in the Wright County jail pending charges.
"The suspect explained that he was motivated to commit these acts due to his anger with God over personal issues; there was no mention of, nor any indication of, political motivations to the suspect's actions," Weinzetl said Wednesday night.
The chief had said earlier that when there are multiple attacks on religious institutions, it gives authorities a reason to believe that the attacks have a "religious bent."
"An attack against a religion in and of itself is a bias or a hate crime," he said.
He added that the material on the posters was "blasphemous and also included homosexual references" that are "an attack on a class of people."
Weinzetl declined to give specific examples of what the messages contained, other than to characterize them as "inflammatory" and add that "the word gay is mentioned, and there are other terms mentioned that would be derogatory to people of a homosexual nature. ... And it probably doesn't take a genius to figure out what those words may be."
At Buffalo United Methodist, the Rev. Jef Olson said someone threw a softball-sized rock through one stained-glass window, damaging it and an outer storm window. Olson said he had no idea what the motivation was, but it wasn't worth spending a lot of time trying to analyze.
"Somebody was making a statement; we don't think it's the right way to make a statement, and we don't even know what the statement is," Olson said. "The end result is that we have probably several hundred dollars that we can't use in ministry because we're going to have to use it to repair this window."
At Hosanna Lutheran Church, part of the Missouri Synod, the Rev. Rob Jarvis said the church got hit twice. When he arrived early for services on Sunday, Jarvis said he found a poster taped to the church door with "very vile language describing Jesus as a homosexual." Jarvis said the 75-word screed included a drawing. Sometime on Monday, he said, two full-length glass doors at the church were smashed.
The congregation was dismayed to learn about the incidents, Jarvis said.
The Rev. David Hennen said that St. Francis Xavier had two posters taped to its entry doors Sunday morning, saying that Jesus was gay. "Then they went into descriptions of homosexual acts. I won't go into detail," he said. The posters did not contain any drawings.
The church also sustained damage on Monday when someone threw a rock and smashed a large glass door. "It was thrown quite hard because it actually put a hole in the wall, too," Hennen said.
Amendment link discounted
The vandalism occurred just weeks before Minnesotans vote on whether the state Constitution should be amended to affirm that marriage is solely between a man and a woman. Leaders in various religions have been involved in the public debate on that ballot measure. However, the damaged churches in Buffalo represent denominations that have come down on different sides of the marriage amendment issue.
"I originally thought the vandalism might have been related to the amendment because of the poster, but there was nothing indicating the amendment on the posters, and the random selection of churches would also probably dismiss that theory," Jarvis said. "But I wonder if all the talk about the [marriage] amendment might have aggravated this particular person."
Police had released surveillance photos of their "person of interest," plus a detailed description of the man and his vehicle, a dark two-tone minivan, in hopes someone would identify him.
The man was arrested about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.