Tahoe church vandalism suspect may have hit elementary school, justice court vehicle | SierraSun.com

Tahoe church vandalism suspect may have hit elementary school, justice court vehicle

Josh Staab
jstaab@sierrasun.com
This surveillance image shows a suspect allegedly outside of one of the crime scenes this summer in Incline Village.
Courtesy Washoe County Sheriff’s Office |

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — As local law enforcement agencies continue their search for suspects related to a string of church vandalism cases, FBI officials are getting more involved and are ready to characterize the incidents as hate crimes.

The Placer and Washoe county sheriff’s offices have teamed with the FBI in their search for at least one person they believe is responsible for a slew of acts at several Incline Village churches that began on Easter Sunday.

Further, acts of vandalism at two Kings Beach churches — Kings Beach United Methodist and Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church — and Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tahoe City also are being investigated.

The most recent crimes in Kings Beach and Tahoe City involved spray painting reportedly “offensive statements” on the churches overnight on Sept. 13, prompting authorities to officially characterize the offenses as hate crimes, said WCSO Lt. Jeff Clark.

“There have been direct links to religion and beliefs to corroborate the characterization,” Clark said this week.

Additionally, law enforcement officials believe the person(s) responsible for the church crimes could have connections with a series of other burglaries in Incline Village, including at an elementary school and a home on Marlene Street, as well as vandalism to an Incline Village Justice Court vehicle.

“We believe there is a connection, so we’re trying to identify suspects at this point,” said PCSO Det. John Riella, the office’s lead investigator on the case. “(That determination) is based on evidence we have found at the scenes.”

While no clear identification of a suspect has been disclosed due to the nature of the ongoing investigation, authorities are looking for a tall white male, thin build, between 18 and 25 years of age, according to fliers recently handed out in North Shore communities.

The suspect could also be in possession of red, blue and yellow spray paint cans and several fire extinguishers, according to law enforcement.

If convicted, the suspect could face up to a year in a federal prison or be subject to a fine or both, according to federal title 18, U.S. code., Section 247.

Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Anyone with information may contact Riella at 530-581-6325.

Those wishing to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000 should contact Placer County Crime Stoppers at 800-923-8191, or visit http://www.placercrimestoppers.com.

In Incline Village, various churches and entities have partnered to offer a $12,500 reward for the crimes there.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the WCSO Incline Village Substation at 775-832-4107; or Secret Witness at 775-322-4900.

The FBI, meanwhile, is offering a reward of up to $5,000. Contact them at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).