FALL RIVER (CBS) – Widespread vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in Fall River is being treated as a hate crime, police said Tuesday.
Fifty-nine gravesites were targeted at the Hebrew Cemetery on McMahon Street sometime over the weekend before the damage was discovered by a groundskeeper. Two headstones were pushed over and the rest were desecrated with anti-Semitic language in black marker. Some graffiti referenced Hitler. One of the messages read “This is MAGA country,” apparently referring to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
Lewis Brooks came to the cemetery to check on headstones that belong to his family. When he realized they had been, he was devastated.
“My great-aunt used to take me here, she’s over there with her family,” Brooks gestured to an area of the cemetery. “It has a lot of memories.”
Another man stopped by and found his own family’s gravestones untouched. “But I will spend a little time to take some of the demeaning words off of some of the gravestones if I can,” he said.
The damage was so extensive that detectives spent much of Tuesday afternoon surveying the grounds with the president of Temple Beth El and the director of the local anti-defamation league.
So far, no arrests have been made. Thanks to an anonymous donor, there is a $12,500 reward being offered for the arrest and conviction of those involved, according to the Hebrew Cemetery director.
Fall River Police are looking into reports there was a suspicious vehicle parked at the cemetery for two days. They are also going through surveillance video looking for leads.
“We have to pull together, not be afraid, look forward, and see what we can do,” said Temple Beth El President Stephen Silverman.
“The real solution and the real response comes from the people in the community. When we say this is not normal and we are not going to allow this to become part of mainstream American society, ” said Anti-Defamation League of New England Director Robert Trestan.
“In accordance with our mission, we stand by the Fall River Jewish Community and view this recent incident as another reminder that we all need to be vigilant and proactive in fighting hate,” the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts said in a statement. “We are confident the investigation is in good and experienced hands with local law enforcement and although this is not one of our cemeteries, we are available to provide any assistance if needed by law enforcement or the victims of this senseless act.”