Police Investigating Religious Hate Crime At Basilica

A statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus is shown with large marks and divots from damage.

Photo by Patrick D. Lewis

By Patrick D. Lewis

For the second time in the last few years, a statue of the Blessed Mother was vandalized at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Unlike last time, though, D.C. Police are treating the latest incident as a hate crime.

According to a statement from Basilica Rector, Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, the incident happened in Mary’s Garden, around midday on February 15. A visitor to the garden saw damage to the statue and reported it to Basilica security.

“Upon inspection, it appears that someone took a hammer to the Blessed Mother’s face as well as shattered the light fixtures of the walkway,” Monsignor Rossi said.

Rossi added that the incident was a “recent occurrence as our security staff inspects the garden as a part of regular rounds.” 

The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) reported that the crime occurred between 10:30 am and 2:30 pm based on statements taken from the person who reported the damage.

The person who reported the crime also confirmed the statue had not been damaged in the morning. It is not known if security footage of the incident exists, but no suspect information has been released.

Alex Cranstoun, a Communications Specialist for the Basilica, said they have no additional information and that the police investigation continues. 

According to a police report, the Basilica “believes this to be a hate/bias crime due to the statue being of Mary and Jesus and the damage being done to the face.” It adds that another statue in the area was not damaged.

A hate/bias-related crime is punishable under D.C. law and adds up to 50% to the maximum sentence for the crime committed; in this case, the defacement of property, the maximum sentence for a hate crime would be nine months.

The Basilica did not say whether it plans to press charges if a suspect is identified.

“Although saddened that acts of this nature take place, I am more concerned about the individuals who perpetrate such activity and pray for their healing,” said Monsignor Rossi.

The incident is reminiscent of a similar crime that occurred in December 2021. In that case, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on the Basilica grounds was damaged. The person responsible for the 2021 case was identified by police, but Monsignor Rossi told WTOP that the Basilica decided not to press charges. That incident, unlike the more recent one, was not deemed a hate crime by MPD.

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