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