Investigation continuing in case of racist graffiti |

Investigation continuing in case of racist graffiti

Jeff Munson

Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune/ The South Lake Tahoe Police Department continues to investigate acts of vandalism discovered at Temple Bat Yam and on roads signs around town in December.

It’s been four months and still no arrests have been made since a Nazi swastika and the words “die Jew” were found at a South Lake Tahoe synagogue, and racist vandalism found on road signs throughout town.

While police and the FBI continue to investigate the vandalism as a hate crime, there appears to be no suspects. The case caused an outcry among South Shore’s clergy and residents in a town known to be transient by nature, but tolerant as a community.

“It was like any tragedy when something like this happens out of the blue. It was offensive, meant to be offensive and inflict pain,” said Dr. Steven Blocher, pastor of Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church who was among dozens of clergy members who offered their support to the Temple Bat Yam congregation.

The anti-Semitic vandalism at the temple was discovered four months ago today on the eve of Hanukkah, while five swastikas sprung up days later on road signs throughout South Lake Tahoe and on a county road sign outside the city limits.

Since then police have followed leads that have fallen through but say the investigation isn’t over.

After the incidents, South Tahoe High School officials did an internal investigation to see if any students were possibly involved. Principal Marcia Kaster said the school’s own Secret Witness program came up with nothing, along with an investigation inquiry by the school’s resource officer Johnny Poland, who also serves as a South Lake Tahoe police officer.

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“Usually the kids will say something to come up with leads or have heard dialogue that we can follow up on,” Kaster said. “Fortunately or unfortunately we couldn’t find any student from the high school who was someone we could target for this kind of investigation.”

South Lake Tahoe does have a high number of parolees, according to county and police records that track prisoners, which led some to believe in the beginning of the investigation that it may have been the work of someone recently paroled.

“We are trying to rule out everyone. It is a priority to us here but the truth of the matter is that it is a difficult crime to investigate,” said South Lake Tahoe police officer Allen Molesworth, who was assigned to the case.

Tahoe’s transience may be one reason why it is difficult, and generally it is hard to track down vandals unless they brag about their crimes.

While there are two known ethnic gangs on the South Shore, there isn’t a known white gang. “But there are some whites here who are pretty straightforward in their beliefs,” Molesworth said.

In one instance last year, a white man called police after he was approached in a bar by a man who identified himself as a “White Prider” who harassed him as he sat in a bar with Latinos.

The incident at the temple sparked an outpouring of support from the community in the form of letters to the editor in the Tahoe Daily Tribune as well as letters and support to the temple.

“The congregation really came together during a difficult time and were really heartened by the community’s response to what happened,” said Temple Bat Yam Rabbi Jonathan Freirich.

A Hanukkah ceremony at the temple on Dec. 10 was attended by about 150 people, including clergy leaders and community members outside of the faith. Freirich announced at the ceremony the formation of a Interfaith Council, which will deal in matters relating to all forms of faith relations in the Lake Tahoe region.

And last Saturday the Unity at the Lake church finished off its 64-day celebration called a Season for Peace and Nonviolence, which promotes ethnic and faith diversity. The closing ceremony brought more than 200 people to Lake Tahoe Community College to celebrate the ideals.

Unity Pastor Denese Schellink said the vandalism spree pulled the community together in ways it hasn’t seen.

“Anytime we see violence against another faith or an organization it brings out a sense of resilience and a a sense of compassion among people,” Schellink said. “The truth is the perpetrators brought out more good than bad to this community.”