Immaculate Conception Church (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Brooklyn resident Michael Torres is being charged with burglary and criminal mischief to be prosecuted as hate crimes after police said that the 20-year-old vandalized Immaculate Conception Church at 414 East 14th Street last Wednesday night.
Local blog Bedford and Bowery originally reported the vandalism last Thursday, noting that Torres was caught on camera leaving an AA meeting at the church earlier that day and reportedly returned later in the evening, forcing the front door open. John Matcovich, the parish manager at the church, said that the side doors of the church were also badly damaged, but from the inside.
“He must have thought those were rooms but they’re just other doors that lead back outside, to the courtyard,” Matcovich said.
Torres had allegedly used the end of an incense holder as a battering ram to break through the side doors. Although the church is in the process of sorting out the cost of the damage, Matcovich said that the administrators made sure to fix and secure the doors as soon as possible.
In addition to the doors, the vandalism was originally reported to cost $100,000 in damage but Matcovich said that once everything is finalized with the insurance company, it will likely be more. He noted that all 14 of the Stations of the Cross had been destroyed and those alone were worth more than $3,000 each.
The blog noted that a number of statues at the church were destroyed, including a plaster statue of the Virgin Mary that was over a hundred years old and had been moved from Mary Help of Christians shortly before it was demolished in 2013. An icon depicting the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus was also destroyed.
Matcovich noted that due to the mess from the vandalism, mass had to be held in the parish basement on Thursday but he said that partially due to the quick work of the insurance company in documenting the damage, the church was able to reopen on Friday.
“That was really important to us,” Matcovich said.
Matcovich will be putting a list together for the insurance company once church officials know what can’t be salvaged, but he said that a fund is being set up if community residents or parishioners want to contribute. Checks can be made out to Immaculate Conception Church but with a note in the memo that the donation is for the vandalism relief fund.
Bedford and Bowery noted that Torres was caught by police after he found himself locked inside the church’s cloister and he was arrested shortly before 11 p.m. He was being held on $10,000 bail or bond but the Department of Corrections said that he was released on Tuesday because his bail had been paid.
Torres’ attorney Steve Hoffman said that his client was currently being psychiatrically evaluated and since Torres made bail, his family has been taking care of him.
“We’re hopeful that he gets the help that he clearly needs,” Hoffman said.