Fall River police say they’ve launched a hate crime investigation after “approximately 25 gravestones” were defaced with anti-Semitic messages at a local Jewish cemetery.
In a press release Tuesday, police said they responded Sunday afternoon to the Hebrew Cemetery at 138 McMahon St. after the gravestones were found “vandalized and damaged with swastikas and Anti-Semitic phrases.” According to the Fall River-based Herald News, the phrases ranged from “heil Hitler” to “expel the Jews” to “Oy vey! This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan in 2016, “Make America Great Again.”
A photo released by Fall River police also shows one gravestone that was vandalized with several anti-Semitic slurs.
“Our intention is not [to] further offend the Jewish community but to accurately depict the seriousness of the photos,” they wrote alongside the photos.
Another photo released by police shows a gravestone defaced with the phrase “The Day of the Rope,” which appears to refer to a fictitious book about a white national uprising against the United States government. According to the Herald News, the reference was written on at least two gravestones.
Police say the messages were written in black magic marker. Of the more than two dozen stones affected, some were also pushed over, officials said. As of Tuesday, officers were still working to complete a full accounting of the damage.
“A full canvas of the cemetery is being conducted to identify all areas of vandalism and calculate a more accurate number,” police said Tuesday.
Police say the vandalism was first found early Sunday by a cemetery maintenance worker and that it appears the original incident occurred sometime on Saturday.
In addition to an award of an undisclosed amount being offered by Fall River police, the Anti-Defamation League of New England is offering a $1,500 reward for information that leads to the apprehension of the person or persons who vandalized the cemetery. Robert Trestan, the ADL’s regional director, said the group is “grateful for the priority that this apparent hate crime is being given by the Fall River Police Department.”
“The desecration of The Hebrew Cemetery of Fall River is an inexcusable act of antisemitic hatred in the place where we honor and remember the lives of our community members,” Trestan said in a statement Tuesday to Boston.com.
According to the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, the Hebrew Cemetery is among the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the state, having been established in the late-1800s.
According to the ADL’s most recent data, there were 90 reported anti-Jewish hate crimes in Massachusetts in 2017, a nearly 50 percent increase compared to 2016, as well as any other year dating back through 2004.