NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Police are searching for a man they say stole a statue from a Brooklyn church and threw it in the trash, twice.

Investigators are calling it a hate crime, CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported Monday.

Police said a man in a hooded sweatshirt entered St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church in Park Slope, just an hour before a noon service last week and took the religious figure.

Someone then spotted it in a garbage can nearby, marking the second time the same statue has been stolen and trashed.

“The Diocese of Brooklyn strongly condemns this incident of religious hatred and is fully cooperating with the New York City Police Department’s investigation. This act of vandalism at St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church in Park Slope has not deterred, but only strengthened, the resolve and faith of the parishioners,” Father Willy Kingsley Ndi said in a statement.

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Surveillance video shows a man with a statue robed in red over his shoulder walking out of the church, located at 9th Street and 4th Avenue, last Wednesday morning

Another angle shows him walk down the street carrying the religious object.

Police said church staff later found it in the trash can on the corner.

“Definitely, I consider it a hate crime. He throw it in the garbage,” one parishioner said.

The church pastor said the statue is of Our Lady of Cisne, most devoutly worshiped by the Ecuadorian community. She was recovered and fixed and moved to a more secure location.

“Our pepole don’t understand why someone would take this statue,” said pastor Willy Kingsley. “The statue is part of the faith of the people.”

A church staff member who didn’t want his face on camera said it marked the second time in a month the statue was stolen from a shrine next to other religious figurines.

“It could be a number of things. It could be somebody being very spiteful towards an image, or maybe a group of people or just the church itself,” the person said.

The first time it was stolen three weeks ago staff didn’t report it to police. They found Our Lady of Cisne robed in pink outside the same trash can.

Both times it was several hours before staff realized the statue was missing.

“They probably thought it was one of the workers, walking in and out with something. That’s why in the footage it shows that nobody really reacted to it,” a church custodian said.

“It’s crazy. How can somebody do that?” said parishioner Eduardo Ruiz. “They hate something, the religion or something?”

“It’s horrible this is happening. I never thought in this neighborhood something like this could happen. I hope this person gets caught,” one parishioner added.

The church’s message stays the same.

“I won’t get into hatred. All I can say is we are praying for this person,” Kingsley said.

Police said the man in the video is now wanted for questioning in connection with a hate crime. He is described as wearing a black jacket, jeans and white sneakers.

The NYPD has increased patrols around the church and is hoping someone recognizes the vandal and reports him. Police are offering up to a $2,500 reward for tips leading them to the suspect.

Anyone with information is asked to call NYPD’s Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or 1-888-57-PISTA (74782) for Spanish. You can also submit a tip via the Crime Stoppers website, by Tweeting @NYPDTips or by texting a tip to 274637 (CRIMES) and then entering TIP577.


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