New Bridge Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Wakulla County, Fla. (Screenshot WCTV news)
The FBI is investigating what they believe to be a series of hate crimes in Wakulla County, Fla., where three predominantly Black churches were vandalized with the letters “KKK” in black graffiti in early December, according to TheRoot.com.
The first incident was discovered on Sunday, Dec. 7 at New Bridge Hope Missionary Church when church members discovered that signs on the property had been sprayed-painted with the “KKK” logo. A second church, Pilgrim Rest P.B. Church, was vandalized in a similar manner.
The latest occurrence happened at Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church, where choir members noticed vandalism on the side of the church during rehearsal on Dec. 10.
Investigators believe most of the vandalism happened on Dec. 10. The three churches are in close proximity to one another. In addition to the vandalism on the church property, many street signs were spray painted with the letters.
Wakulla County NAACP Organizing Committee President Anginita Rosier says the recent vandalism has upset members of the community, both Black and White. “The whole community is in shock right now that we still have these things occurring,” she told the Tallahassee Democrat.
She added that the recent incident has unified members of the community. “If there’s a positive out of this negative behavior it’s really bound the citizens of this county together,” Rosier said. “It’s affected everyone to the point that everyone is anxious to see someone held accountable for these crimes.”
The Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office was able to clear one person they investigated and has pursued three other individuals of interest. The sheriff’s office is offering a $5,000 reward for anyone that can provide additional information to the crime, according to USA Today.
County Sheriff Charlie Creel told the Tallahassee Democrat that he doesn’t believe an active group is behind all the vandalizing. “I don’t think this is an active group that the community’s got to be concerned about,” he said, but is instead the work of individuals looking to “stir stuff up.”
“They’re cowards hiding behind a spray can,” he added.
Mount Olive Pastor Samuel Hayes, who has led the church for 22 years, said he is willing to offer healing, despite the racial crimes. “Any means for harm, God turns into good,” Samuel told the Tallahassee Democrat. “This is going to bring us together. I’ve run across so many wonderful people in this county. We’re a family.”
Last month, Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Moon was suspended with pay for posting racist comments on Facebook in reference to the Michael Brown case. Four other officers were also suspended with pay. Some believe there is a possible connection with the officers being suspended and the vandalism.
“We feel (the KKK spray-painting incident) is directly related to the incident related to the Sheriff’s Department and the officers who have been suspended so far, pending the outcome of the investigation,” said Rosier, according to USA Today.
Federal officers are currently working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the crime.