UNIVERSITY CITY, MO. - University City, Missouri, police are investigating a massive case of vandalism at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery at 7550 Olive.
Vandals damaged approximately 180 to 189 headstones at Jewish cemetery over the weekend. Cemetery managers are conducting an inventory to determine the total number of damaged plots, and will make those numbers available to the public through social media.
Police are examining surveillance videos from the cemetery and surrounding businesses. At this time no suspects have been identified.
In a released statement, University City Police said 'Although there is nothing to indicate that this is a hate crime, the department has increased patrols in the area and officers are conducting frequent walkthroughs of religious institutions throughout the City."
Some family members drove to the cemetery Monday evening to see if their loved one's headstone was toppled, but the cemetery was closed.
Karen Aroesty, the regional director for the St. Louis-area Anti-Defamation League, got a call about the vandalism around noon. She walked through the cemetery to see the damage for herself and said she was appalled. She hopes to work with investigators to figure out if this was a hate crime.
The cemetery's executive director said they are getting an outpouring of support from across the country to help with the financial impact. The cemetery would like to pay for us much of the cleanup and repairs as possible, but they're still assessing the damage.
The vandalism occurred the same day as 11 Jewish community centers received bomb threats, the fourth wave of threats this year.
Governor Eric Greitens issued the following statement on the vandalism:
“Today, Missouri witnessed a despicable act of what appears to be anti-Semitic vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery.
It is reported that more than 100 headstones were damaged. We do not yet know who is responsible, but we do know this: this vandalism was a cowardly act. And we also know that, together, we can meet cowardice with courage.
Anyone who would seek to divide us through an act of desecration will find instead that they unite us in shared determination. From their pitiful act of ugliness, we can emerge even more powerful in our faith.
Whoever did this slipped into a cemetery in secret to break things. We will stand together in the open to rebuild them, stronger.”
Federal authorities are investigating. "The FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are investigating possible civil rights violations in connection with threats to Jewish community centers across the country," the FBI said in a statement. "The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and will ensure this matter is investigated in a fair, thorough, and impartial manner. As this is matter is ongoing, we are not able to comment further at this time."
Ground was acquired for Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in 1893. The Chesed Shel Emeth Society has been serving the St. Louis Jewish community for more than 125 years, according to the society's website. "It operates in accordance with Jewish tradition as is telling from its name: Chesed – loving kindness; and Emeth – Torah Truth and integrity," the site says.
If you would like to help, the Chesed Shel Emeth Society is collecting donations on their website. Click here for more information or to donate.
A fundraising effort by Muslim Americans has been established as well. You can find more information here.
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