Authorities in Laurel, Md. are investigating a potential hate crime after finding a doll hanging from a noose outside a Black church on Oct. 31.

According to The Washington Post, a maintenance man of City of Zion Church, a church with a predominantly African American congregation, found the doll hanging from a tree in front of the church at 7:30 a.m., prior to the morning service. Emblazoned on the doll were a slew of racial slurs and references to President Obama.

“This was meant to rattle our congregation,” Gregory Strong, the church’s pastor, told the Post. “Very disturbing, very disturbing.”

Strong notified the authorities and the doll was removed before congregants arrived.

The doll, which was made out of a dark cloth, was discovered just two days prior to the midterm elections on Nov. 2, which Strong believes wasn’t a coincidence.

“This was something that somebody really planned,” he told the Post. “We would love to apprehend these people.”

Authorities believe the incident was not an act of pre-Halloween teenage vandalism, but rather an organized effort by an adult due to the words and the way they were written on the doll. Laurel City spokesman James Collins told The (Gaithersburg, Md.) Gazette that they believe the doll was placed either late on the night of Oct. 30 or early on the morning of Oct. 31

“We’re lucky that they found it prior to church services beginning,” Collins told the Gazette. “This is not something that Laurel is used to.”

Collins could not be immediately reached for comment regarding updates in the case in the week since the doll was found. Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe said he spoke to Strong to express his ire about the incident and assured him that authorities will do everything they can to solve the crime in a timely manner.

“There is no place in Laurel for actions such as this,” Moe said in a statement.

The incident occurred less than two months after an Ohio man was indicted on federal hate crime charges for setting a fire in the only Black church in Conneaut, Ohio. According to Newsone.com, Ronald Pudder, 23, was accused of setting First Azusa Apostolic Faith Church of God ablaze on May 20. No one was hurt by the incident.

Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the government is actively seeking to deter copycat crimes.
“Hate crimes reflect a cancer of the soul,” Perez told Newsone. “They are designed not only to injure the particular victim or victims, but to send a message to the community: a message of fear, an effort to divide communities along religious lines.”