Chicago, IL.- A 22-year-old Gurnee woman was charged Friday with vandalizing several religious institutions throughout Lake County. Meghan Heinze faces 10 counts of institutional vandalism, 10 counts of criminal defacement and two counts of criminal damage to property, police said.
The charges are all felonies, and Heinze was ordered held in lieu of $500,000 bail.
On February 27th, Gurnee officers attending traffic court saw a subject matching the description and identified her to detectives. Heinze was questioned at her home and taken into custody, nearly two weeks after officials were first notified of vandalism at religious buildings during overnight hours. In all, more than a dozen places of worship were defaced with graffiti or damaged. The same words were spray painted on the buildings — a phrase with an expletive to mock their faith with a smiley face beneath the offending words.
The incidents did not targeting specific faiths, said Tom Agos, a crime prevention specialist with the Gurnee Police Department. Some Christian churches, a Greek Orthodox Church and a mosque have been among those vandalized, he said.
Jaseem Anwer, vice president of the Islamic North Foundation mosque in Waukegan, which was defaced, said he doesn’t feel there is any religious tension in the area and they have never felt threatened coming to pray.
“This is the first time we have had any form of incident. It seems like a real well-organized crime that targets a lot of people,” he said.
“I’m just shocked it could happen,” said Christine Palmer, who sits on the board of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Christian Church, which was also targeted.
All of the graffiti was made using spray paint, Agos said.
“We are saddened by this spree of hate and offer support to the religious communities that were targeted,” said American Jewish Committee Chicago Director Amy Stoken. “These reprehensible acts are an affront to all of us.”
The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago also issued a statement.
“In the spirit of the approaching Lenten season, I would pray that Meghan is repentant of her acts of vandalism and that we, people of faith, find it in our hearts to forgive her, hoping that she gets the help she apparently needs,” it read.
During Friday’s bond hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Paola DeLeon-Bond said a video and still picture captured the image of someone vandalizing a house of worship in Gurnee. That screen shot was distributed to area police departments and the media for assistance in finding the suspect.
DeLeon-Bond said the break in the case came when police officers attending branch court Thursday saw a person matching the description of the suspect, then obtained the woman’s information during court proceedings.
After court, the officers reviewed the video and noticed the matching coat and vehicle, she said.
Officers went to Heinze’s house that day, DeLeon-Bond said, and Heinze told officers, “This is about the church vandalism, isn’t it?”
DeLeon-Bond said Heinze admitted to the vandalism, adding she was “angry with religion.” DeLeon-Bond said Heinze told police she was angry because “everyone is following a book written thousands of years ago.”
In Heinze’s bedroom, officers found red spray paint used to write obscene statements on exterior walls of the houses of worship, and a baseball bat used to break windows in various locations, DeLeon-Bond said.
She also said family members told police Heinze has been watching “videos about serial killers and Nazis” and was looking into obtaining a gun.
After the hearing, Heinze’s mother — who asked not to be identified — approached Nerheim and said, “I apologize for my child’s actions.”
The crying woman also said Heinze has no prior convictions, and that she was “not in her right mind.”
Heinze is due back in court March 11 for bond review.