Nearly a dozen places of worship in the north suburbs have been defaced with graffiti or damaged since last Friday, and police are releasing surveillance photos of a suspect and a vehicle.
The same words were spray painted on the buildings—a phrase with an expletive to mock their faith with a smiley face beneath the offending words, the Lake County News-Sun is reporting.
The incidents are not targeting specific faiths, said Tom Agos, a crime prevention specialist with the Gurnee Police Department.
Some Christian churches, a Greek Orthodox church and a mosque have been among those vandalized, he said.
“We really want to take care of this while it’s still a criminal damage and a defacement before this could escalate,” Waukegan Police Commander Joe Florip said. Some of the incidents in Gurnee also involved criminal damage to property, Florip said.
Jaseem Anwer, vice president of the Islamic North Foundation mosque in Waukegan, which was defaced, said he doesn’t feel there is any religious tension in the area and they have never felt threatened coming to pray.
“This is the first time we have had any form of incident. It seems like a real well-organized crime that targets a lot of people,” he said.
“I’m just shocked it could happen,” said Christine Palmer, who sits on the board of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Christian Church, which was also targeted.
In a joint statement, Waukegan and Gurnee police said all the graffiti cases happened in the overnight hours. Almost a dozen incidents, all targeting religious facilities, have been reported since Feb. 14.
All of the graffiti was made using spray paint, Agos said.
“We are saddened by this spree of hate and offer support to the religious communities that were targeted,” said American Jewish Committee Chicago Director Amy Stoken. “These reprehensible acts are an affront to all of us. We call upon any person having any knowledge of this crime to come forward to law enforcement to help bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The Rev. Stanley Davis of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago echoed that sentiment. “We will stand with each other at this time of crisis for the common good,” he said.
Investigators believe the suspect drives or has access to a silver or light-colored SUV, possibly a Nissan Rogue or Nissan Murano. The man pictured is currently the only suspect, Agos said.
Anyone who can identify him, or has information on the incidents should call Gurnee police at (847) 599-7000 or Waukegan police at (847) 782-2369.
Tipsters can also call Lake County Crime Stoppers at (847) 623-2222, and may qualify for a cash reward.
“I can assure you we do have leads and clues we are pursuing at this very moment and we will bring this to a quick conclusion,” Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley said. “We have our entire detective bureau working on the case and these other incidences.”