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Police investigating Catonsville church vandalism, possible anti-gay link

Immanuel United Church of Christ in Catonsville on July 1, 2016.
Immanuel United Church of Christ in Catonsville on July 1, 2016. (Jon Bleiweis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Police are investigating thousands of dollars in vandalism and a possible hate crime at Immanuel United Church of Christ in Catonsville.

Officers were called to the church, at 1905 Edmondson Ave., Thursday morning and found smashed windows, file cabinets opened and furniture and other items broken and strewn about, a Baltimore County Police spokeswoman said Friday.

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A fire extinguisher had been sprayed throughout the church, damaging many items, including pew cushions.

In the music room, various inflammatory phrases were written on a dry-erase board, including "666," "Hail Satan," and "Death 2 All," police said.

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The church's pastor said damage estimates are expected to top $20,000.

Police believe the damage, discovered by the church custodian, was done between 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 9:40 a.m. Thursday.

The 150-year-old congregation has about 70 members, said the Rev. Beverly Lewis, and the building is used frequently by community groups, such as the Catonsville Cooperative Market and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Police are investigating the case as a possible hate crime. The pastor told authorities she believes the church has been victimized before because of its open acceptance of gays and lesbians. The church flies a rainbow unity flag. Police responded to a previous incident involving theft of the unity flag.

Lewis said the streetside sign board has been defaced "two to three times."

"Things kind of escalated when I posted the 'Black Lives Matter' message on our sign after Ferguson," after the police shooting death of Michael Brown almost two years ago, said Lewis, who has been pastor for more than three years.

Lewis, known at "Rev. Bev," said the denomination and its churches are "open and affirming."

"We are radically inclusive of LGBTQ," she said, referring to lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and queer. "They have a safe place with us and a sense of community.

"After this, we have to stand taller," Lewis said.

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call Baltimore County Police at 410-307-2020.

Lloyd Batzler contributed to this report.

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