Updated December 13, 2016
WATERVILLE — Police are investigating the spray-painting of a swastika on a large rock at Quarry Road Recreation Center over the weekend that has drawn attention from hundreds of people on Facebook and prompted an interfaith service of healing to be held Friday evening.
The incident, reported to police Saturday, also prompted City Manager Michael Roy and Mayor Nick Isgro to post a message online saying Waterville will not stand for such activity.
A swastika was painted on a rock at the Devil’s Chair parking area at Quarry Road Recreation Area in Waterville, seen on Saturday, but city parks and recreation workers removed the symbol on Monday.
“In situations like this the city of Waterville stands firmly united against any form of hate and intolerance,” the post says. “From the arrival of the Franco-Canadians and the Lebanese Maronite Catholics to our proud Jewish community and beyond, Waterville has always been, remains, and will always be an open and accepting community that will not be torn asunder by individuals or groups who believe otherwise.”
City parks and recreation workers removed the “offensive markings” Monday morning, according to the message.
Sometime over the weekend, the swastika was sprayed with red paint on the rock at the city-owned recreation area off Quarry Road, which is off North Street. The symbol — used by the Nazi party during the Holocaust —was encircled with red paint and a star was painted to the left. The rock is across the road from a parking lot used by hikers who use the Devil’s Chair trail and is about one-quarter of a mile from the first gate into the recreation area.
Rabbi Rachel Isaacs of Beth Israel Congregation, a synagogue on Main Street, said Tuesday that although the painting of the swastika on the rock is a heinous action, she is inspired by the support and words of encouragement she and others have received from people in the wake of the incident.
“It’s very upsetting, it’s very disturbing, it’s frightening,” Isaacs said. “However, at the same time, I’ve been so moved by the amount of support that the Jewish community has received from our neighbors and from our elected officials.”
Beth Israel Congregation plans to hold an interfaith service of healing at 6 p.m. Friday. “We welcome everybody to come inside for the service,” Isaacs said. “It’s a Shabbat (Sabbath) service, but it’s for people of all faiths.
Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said the painting of the swastika does not yet rise to the level of a hate crime, but it is very concerning and he understands people’s anger and outrage over it.
“We are still investigating it,” Massey said Tuesday. “There really is, at this point, no crime.”
He said there is nothing that leads police to believe a hate crime has been committed against any group or individual, but police are trying to determine who did it.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m. Friday, a woman also called police about a swastika having been drawn, with lipstick, on the windshield of a car parked at an apartment building on Quarry Road.
“It was an isolated incident, and there were no messages or threatening symbols or words,” Massey said. “We’re not sure if it’s related, but we’re certainly looking at that because it’s the same general area.”
Massey said Tuesday that the rock painted with a swastika is out of the way in the recreation area and not visible to the majority of the public. As in the case of the swastika drawn with lipstick on the car windshield, it was not accompanied by any specific messages or threatening messages, according to Massey.
To make a distinction between the painting of a symbol and a hate crime, Massey said that if someone goes out into the middle of the road and screams that she or he hates black people, that does not constitute a hate crime. However, if he or she walks up to a black person and points a finger at the person and says he or she hates black people, then that is considered a hate crime.
“This (swastika) has always been associated with a very negative connotation and people are outraged, and rightfully so,” Massey said.
He said police are taking the incident very seriously and are trying to determine whether it is a hate crime or a mean-spirited joke or prank.
“When people do that, it’s offensive and it’s dumb and it’s bad taste, a bad joke, but sometimes it doesn’t rise to the level of a hate crime,” he said.
He said if the swastika had been painted on someone’s house or a rock wall, for instance, it would constitute criminal mischief. If several rocks to the entrance of the park were painted with the symbols, that also would constitute criminal mischief, but one rock out of the way painted as such does not.
By Tuesday, more than 500 people had reacted on the city’s Facebook page to the message by Roy and Isgro, and more than 30 people had commented and more than 100 had shared the message. Several of the comments thanked them for posting the message.
Some postings on Facebook say people plan to stand in a circle around the outside of the synagogue and pray prior to the inside service, but Isaacs urges people not to do that, particularly because the temperatures are expected to be near zero degrees Friday. “Everyone’s invited inside,” she said. “I really, strongly request that people don’t do anything outside.”
Massey said he plans to attend the service, both as a show of support and to ensure there is a police presence there. He said anyone with information about the swastika incidents may contact police at 680-4700.
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