A 30-year-old man was charged Friday with pelting several churches in Buffalo, Minn., with rocks and leaving behind posters with offensive messages about homosexuality, his actions fueled by what he said was God wanting him to "hurt people."
Wade E. Murray, who lives about halfway between Buffalo and Rockford, was charged in Wright County District Court with felony vandalism. Authorities estimate damage to the churches in recent days to be more than $7,500.
Police said doors and windows were broken 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.
Inflammatory messages on posters dealing with religion and sexual orientation were left starting last Saturday night at two of those churches -- St. Francis and Hosanna Lutheran -- and two others, Zion Lutheran (ELCA) and Buffalo Presbyterian, said Police Chief Mitchell P. Weinzetl.
Murray was arrested Wednesday night and remains jailed.
Weinzetl has 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."
Friday's criminal complaint shed no light on the content of the messages other than to call them "disturbing and graphic."
According to the complaint:
Murray's father called police and said it was his son in the surveillance photos -- taken last Saturday at a store where he Murray bought the posters -- that were released to the news media on Wednesday.
King's House, a Catholic retreat center in Buffalo, also reported that someone matching the description of Murray released by police had been at its facility Monday and was acting strangely and commenting about the building.
Later Wednesday, the FBI told police that Murray was at the agency's offices in Brooklyn Center.
Chief Weinzetl met Murray at the FBI offices. Murray said that God and Jesus were "talking to him" and telling him to leave the messages and vandalize the churches. He added that God wants him to "hurt people."
The vandalism occurred just weeks before Minnesotans vote on whether the state Constitution should be amended to say 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.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482