SANTA CRUZ, California – Vandalism at a historic Central California church that held artifacts from the 1700s is being investigated as a possible hate crime because anti-church graffiti and symbols were scrawled on the walls, police said.
Vandals struck at the Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz before dawn Sunday. Windows were shattered by rocks, and paint was sprayed and poured on doors, walls and statues, according to Santa Cruz police spokesman Zach Friend.
The Roman Catholic Parish of Holy Cross is the home of Mission Santa Cruz, which was founded in 1791 as the 12th link in the chain of 21 Franciscan missions stretching from San Diego to Sonoma.
Among the damaged items was a baptismal font brought to Santa Cruz by Father Junipero Serra, who founded the mission system in California. The artifact was broken into several pieces, and it's unclear if it can be repaired, said Warren Hoy, spokesman for the Diocese of Monterey.
Phrases scrawled by the vandals, including "This is Ohlone land" and "This was made by slaves," appeared to refer to the history of the missions, many of which were built on land native to the Ohlone Indians. The culture clash decimated Ohlone power and the population in the region in the late 18th century.
The damage from the vandalism spread across the main church, the church museum, an adjacent home serving pregnant women and a garden area. Someone also climbed on a roof to spray-paint the church's bell tower.
The Holy Cross Church has been the target of minor vandalism in the past because of its mission history, but nothing on this scale, Hoy said.
Staff and volunteers have managed to clean off much of the paint, and officials were waiting Tuesday for repair costs on damage to statues and the baptismal font, he said.
Police are reviewing surveillance footage, which caught at least one person on video.