Authorities said Wednesday that a man confessed to knocking over about 120 headstones at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis last year and that it doesn’t seem to have been motivated by hatred.
The vandalism at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City in February 2017 caused more than $30,000 in damage and drew widespread attention, with Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens visiting in the days after it happened.
DNA from a jacket found at the cemetery led investigators Alzado Harris, of Florissant, who told investigators he was on drugs and was angry about some personal matter when he knocked over the tombstones, authorities said. Harris, 34, was jailed Wednesday on a charge of institutional vandalism. His bond was set at $20,000 and he doesn’t have a lawyer yet.
Harris “stated he acted alone, was angry over a personal matter and was under the influence of drugs when he committed the offense,” University City police said in a news release.
At a news conference, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said Harris was sent to prison for 120 days in December for an unrelated burglary. His DNA was sampled and was determined last week to be a match with the discarded clothing.
The crime occurred at about the same time Jewish centers across the country received bomb threats. McCulloch said the crime “was not good timing on his (Harris’) part,” but the fact that the cemetery was Jewish appeared to be coincidental.
“At this point it does not appear there was any anti-Semetic motive,” McCulloch said.
During Pence’s visit, he said there was “no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism,” but that the community’s response to the vandalism offered solace.
The Jewish Federation raised nearly $250,000 to restore the cemetery, and Tarek El-Messidi, a Muslim social justice advocate from Philadelphia, helped raise another $160,000. The money was used in part to upgrade security at Chesed Shel Emeth and other Jewish cemeteries in the St. Louis region.