Verona police have arrested a 30-year-old township man they believe was responsible for using a hammer to damage several religious statues at the Our Lady of the Lake Church, Verona police said Wednesday morning.
Elliott S. Bennett was charged with third-degree criminal mischief for using the hammer to damage statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and St. John at the church, located at 32 Lakeside Ave. in Verona on Aug. 12.
Details involving the arrest are sketchy, but Verona Police Capt. Michael Stern said police interviewed a witness and obtained a search warrant to search Bennett’s house, where they discovered a hammer they believe was used to damage the statues.
Stern said the witness read about the incident on MyVeronanj.com and thought Bennett “fit the description and was capable of being involved in the incident.”
Bennett is to appear in Essex County Superior Court in Newark next Wednesday to face the charges.
Last Thursday, Rev. Michael A. Hanley, in a letter to the congregation of the church, said the church forgave the person who damaged the statues.
“Becoming victims of religious bigotry and hatred is not a pleasant experience for any of us,” Hanley said, “However, it helps us to reflect and appreciate those persons of whatever faith-tradition who over the ages have been persecuted for their faith and tradition.”
“We pray that this person will be apprehended and brought to justice,” he added. “Hopefully the person will receive some long-term assistance – along with justice.”
The vandalism was the second incident in the last three months at the church.
According to church administrator Colleen Dougherty, in May someone broke off the toes of the statue of Jesus. The statue needed to be taken down and sent to Brooklyn for repairs.
Dougherty said the church intentionally did not seek to publicize the May incident. Police believed that incident was a case of criminal mischief.
Verona-Cedar Grove Patch will update this story when more information becomes available.