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Man admits to Jewish cemetery vandalism in University City

Alzado Harris

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. - An arrest has been made in a Jewish cemetery vandalism case that occurred on February 22, 2017.

The St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office charged 34-year-old Alzado Harris with felony institutional vandalism on Wednesday. His bail was set at $20,000.

Police said Harris confessed in a recorded interview that he knocked over around 130 gravestones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery.  The estimated damage was over $30,000. The incident came at a time when bomb threats were being phoned into Jewish community centers across the country.

According to our news partners at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a friend dropped Harris off near the cemetery after an argument that evening. He told authorities that he took his anger out on the monuments at Chesed Shel Emeth and was under the influence of drugs.

No arrests were made for the incident at Chesed Shel Emeth for over a year. Police said, at the time, that there was not enough evidence to determine a hate crime had been committed.  Harris does have a criminal record.

Investigators said DNA evidence collected at the scene ultimately led them to arrest Harris.

The vandalism at the historic Jewish resting place really resonated with people locally. Approximately 2,500 volunteers contributed time and money to restore the cemetery, Missouri Governor Eric Greiten and Vice President Mike Pence. More than $200,000 was raised toward security upgrades.

The Anti-Defamation League issued the following statement late Wednesday afternoon:

“ADL was waiting to learn whether or not the case would be prosecuted as a hate crime, which requires evidence of motivation that Harris chose the cemetery intentionally because it was a Jewish one and he wanted to target Jews.  It appears that such motivation is not present.  Harris was apparently angry at a friend and alcohol and drug use fueled his remarkable rampage at the cemetery the night in question. While it won’t be prosecuted as a hate crime, there is no question that at the time it certainly felt hateful to the Jewish community, both in St. Louis and far beyond.  While we waited on the investigation, some seriously impressive community building and interfaith expressions of support came from all over the world, including crowdfunding by the Muslim community and engagement with interfaith friends in St. Louis and globally; they understood the emotional impact, especially for the families who experienced damage to the headstones of their loved ones.”