A woman who spray-painted hateful messages on the walls of a Florida church and damaged one of the altars has been arrested and charged with vandalism.
Alfa Illescas, 44, was arrested by the Miami-Dade Police Department, Homeland Security Bureau, for her alleged role in vandalizing St. Timothy Catholic Church of Miami last Saturday.
According to authorities, Illescas was seen on video surveillance walking through one of the church’s gates and spray-painting walls with words like “perverts” and “pigs,” and kicking over trash cans. She also allegedly damaged an altar dedicated to a saint.
"Places of worship are a staple of our community where many go to pray and practice their religious beliefs," said Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo Freddy Ramirez III in a statement released Sunday.
"I am very proud of the tenacity and hard work of our Homeland Security Bureau investigators to arrest the individual responsible for this pointless crime."
Illescas is facing charges of criminal mischief in a place of worship, reported the Miami-based WSVN, and is being held at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami-Dade on a $6,000 bond.
For its part, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami released a statement in which it explained that parents of the parish school helped to clean the walls on Sunday.
“This is a tragedy, that a sacred place like a Catholic school and church property is vandalized. It's a hate crime,” stated the Archdiocese, as quoted by NBC Miami.
“I'm concerned but I don't think I'm surprised,” said one woman, whose children graduated from the school, to NBC Miami. “Because Christians are under attack and you see it all over the world.”
According to the church’s website, the congregation was founded in 1960 and initially held worship services at the auditorium of Southwest Miami High School.
The church eventually got its own building, a former World War II barracks, and also opened a school that enrolls students from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade.
According to a report by the Family Research Council released in April, attacks on churches in the United States “have been steadily on the rise for the past several years, and the first quarter of 2023 has continued the upward trend.”
“The first three months of 2023 saw approximately three times the number of acts of hostility perpetrated against churches in the same timeframe last year,” wrote Arielle Del Turco, director of the FRC Center for Religious Liberty.