MORRIS TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A man was arrested Sunday evening and charged with vandalizing five African-American churches in Morris County, New Jersey.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s office said Zuri C. Towns, 45, of Morristown, was arrested Sunday by police detectives. Towns issued a statement confirming that he was responsible for the vandalism and saying he acted alone, prosecutors said.
As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, authorities alleged that Towns walked up to the Church of God in Christ for All Saints on Rowe Street in Morristown and hurled a rock at it – smashing through a stained glass window.
“It angered me,” said the Rev. Robert Rogers, pastor of the church. “It really angered me to see someone disrespect a place of worship.”
“It doesn’t feel too good — it really doesn’t,” added churchgoer Edward Taborn. “In either one of these churches, as long as I’ve been here, this is the first time I’ve seen something like this happen.”
Police said Towns also confessed to vandalizing Bethel A.M.E. Church on Spring Street, Calvary Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Avenue, and Union Baptist Church on Spring Street — all in Morristown — along with Morristown Church of Christ on Martin Luther King Avenue in Morris Township.
Shattered glass, scattered letters, and broken windows — the churches which were targeted got hit hard in the overnight hours between Friday and Saturday.
“When I rode past it earlier I couldn’t believe someone would do something like this,” churchgoer Phyllis Gibson told CBS2.
“I feel disturbed, very, very disturbed,” Gibson’s daughter, Sehkai Wevv, said. “Somebody would do this to my home church? It’s like, what were they thinking? What was going through their minds? I’m just appalled.”
Detectives were led to Towns as a result of video obtained by the churches, prosecutors said. He was found near his home – which is close to several of the churches, prosecutors said.
“I feel all sorts of ways,” Gibson said. “It’s crazy for someone to actually vandalize a church sign. Where’s the morals? Where’s the morals out here in the world today?”
Towns had attended services at one of the churches as a minor, prosecutors said. But investigators did not explain why he allegedly damaged the houses of worship.
“It’s disheartening to hear these stories. It’s unfortunate,” another churchgoer said. “We’re in a sad time.”
Church members said the destructive act is very unsettling.
“We encourage all members to come to church today and during the week,” Rogers said. “We believe this is a safe place and we believe it is a safe place.”
“You can’t lock yourself in the house and never come out, so you just got to keep living,” said churchgoer Vera Berry.
New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy denounced the “cowardly acts” in a tweet Saturday.
Added Morristown Mayor Timothy Dougherty: “We take this very seriously, and all resources are being deployed to make sure all services that take place today, that there are no problems”
The churches that were targeted are all African-American churches, and police had initially investigated the acts of vandalism as bias crimes. But prosecutors later said no evidence showed a motive of bias.
Towns was charged with multiple counts of criminal mischief, prosecutors said.