Morristown man arrested in desecration of St. Margaret’s Church

Rock sits on the floor St. Margaret's Church, after vandalism, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.


Morristown police have arrested a local man suspected of a rock-throwing rampage that caused thousands of dollars of damage to doors and stained-glass windows at St. Margaret of Scotland Church over the weekend.

Vandalism at St. Margaret’s Church, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.

“This has hurt the community quite a bit,” Pastor Hernan Arias said on Wednesday. “We try to preach the Gospel…to have this abomination against the church is just awful.”

Father Hernan said neighbors called police late Sunday, near midnight, when they heard a man yelling outside the Catholic church on Sussex Avenue.

“He started knocking the doors, and got rocks and stones,” said the pastor, who estimated the damage could approach $15,000.

Police arrested Morristown resident Pedro Bautisa-Vasquez, 47, at the scene. Officer Michael Cerick arrived as the suspect was throwing a rock through one of the large glass doors at the church entrance, reported Lt. Stuart Greer.

Numerous signs and photos had been removed from inside the church and destroyed, Greer said. So far the investigation suggests Bautista-Vasquez acted alone; beyond that, no motive or additional information was available, the lieutenant said in a statement.

Police said numerous signs and photos were destroyed at St. Margaret’s Church, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.

Bautista-Vasquez was charged with burglary and criminal mischief and taken to Morristown Medical Center for an evaluation.

The stained-glass windows dated to the 1960s, said Father Hernan, who is not yet sure how much damage will be covered by insurance. He was grateful for help by parishioners from Bravo Construction; they stayed overnight after the incident to keep watch at the church, and cleaned up broken glass and boarded windows the next morning, said the pastor.

Boarded up windows at St. Margaret’s Church, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.

He could recall only one other vandalism incident during his 14-year tenure, when someone broke a basement panel years ago.

Broken glass from vandalism at St. Margaret’s Church, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.

Five Black churches were vandalized in Morristown in November 2017. A man was charged in those cases, which investigators determined were not bias crimes.

About two-thirds of St. Margaret’s 1,000 families are Hispanic, Father Hernan said, describing a vibrant community committed to the church, which hosts food distributions, COVID-19 tests and other services.

It’s a parish that has helped him put this disturbing episode into perspective, he added.

“Even though it’s very sentimental, people are saying, ‘It’s just a building. We are the church.”‘

Boarded up entrance, after vandalism at St. Margaret’s Church, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.

Rock sits on floor at St. Margaret’s Church, as police outside investigate vandalism, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.
Inside of St. Margaret’s Church is littered with broken glass, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.

Broken stained-glass window at St. Margaret’s Church, November 2020. Photo courtesy of the church.

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  1. KJ,
    I agree with you. They blew many opportunities. Instead of mobilizing legislators to toughen laws and punishments for illegals and their enablers, he mostly just bellowed and tried to issue orders that were overturned by federal courts. The republicans in congress did very little, also.
    When Biden takes the helm we will see the unraveling of almost all enforcement. In a way, I hope it happens in a big way and that it backfires.

  2. Jeff,
    Trump had 4 years, a republican controlled senate and a conservative supreme court to “drop the hammer on illegals” and he still managed to fail. Daca is still as strong as ever, “the wall” is actually just a fence and deportations have been put on hold due to covid. Demographics are rapidly shifting so if it hasn’t happened by now it never will.

  3. KJ,
    To people who care about this country and the rule of law, it certainly does matter. To anti-Americans, it’s okay for illegals to be here, use our resources, and commit crimes. You’re lucky that Biden will open the floodgates and allow illegals to stream in.
    But in four years here’s hoping that people see the folly of their ways and elect a president who drops the hammer hard on illegals.

  4. Jeff
    It doesn’t matter if the man is illegal or not. A good portion of the people that go to this church are undocumented. This church offers a few programs like wind of the spirit for people that are undocumented and are looking for help to obtain legal status.

  5. James,
    It matters a lot. A real lot. If he is an illegal, this crime would have not occurred had he not been there.
    My compassion is for the people of this church that have to pay for the damage, for taxpayers who will have to cover the cost of the legal process, and for law-abiding citizens and visitors who don’t thumb their noses at our laws. For illegals? Not so much.

  6. Jeff
    Does it mater? This man needs help. This is the United States of America, where is your compassion?

  7. I grew up on Atno Ave and attended grammar school at St Margaret’s church.
    So many fond memories. So many good people.
    First communion and confirmation there.
    To this day it has anyways been a place of kindness and care.
    I hope the individual who was damaging the property gets help.
    I pray for that person and for a quick repair of the wonderful church.
    St Margarets has always been a symbol of help and hope to anyone who has entered her doors. It’s comforting to know that will continue.
    Some good things never change . Thank God.