BAYSIDE — Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Bayside and its parish school were vandalized in the overnight hours on Jan. 11 by someone who spray painted the name of MS-13, an international street gang, by the main entrances of both the school and church, according to police and the church’s Facebook page.
Cops from the 111th Precinct were on hand for Sunday Masses on Jan. 12 to investigate the vandalism. The probe is still underway. The New York Police Department hadn’t made an arrest as of the morning of Jan. 14, an official said.
“I don’t think it was targeted,” said Msgr. Thomas Machalski, the pastor, noting that the tags were found in multiple places in the neighborhood, including on garage doors and fences.
“Apparently this [vandalism] has gone on throughout Bayside… but I’m not aware of the gang being a presence throughout the neighborhood,” Msgr. Machalski said. “It’s very sad when people don’t respect other people’s property or other people in general.”
On the same day that the graffiti was discovered, Bayside resident Kristy Proscia Predescu posted on Facebook pictures of more MS-13 graffiti found on residential property on 221st Street and 38th Avenue near the church.
MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, was started by immigrants from El Salvador in Los Angeles in the 1970s. It is known for its brutal violence, and especially for murder and drug trafficking. The group is active in Nassau and Suffolk counties. In December, almost 100 members and associates were charged with various crimes by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.
In Bayside, the vandalism prompted anger.
“I’m beyond upset, and absolutely appalled. This is an absolute disgrace,” longtime Sacred Heart of Jesus parishioner Joseph Ruggiero said.
“It seems to be a pattern not only among the Jewish community, but now has spread over to the Christian community as well,” he added.
“There has never been any semblance of MS-13 in Bayside, as far as I know, and certainly not in this area. It’s very quiet, suburban; we love our community and our church. The graffiti upset me all that more.
“It looks like it’s the work of kids, my first and my gut reaction. I know there isn’t any MS-13 gang activity here in Bayside. It’s a copy-cat version of things going on — Nassau, Suffolk County, there’s an issue. Here in Queens, it’s never been an issue.
Msgr. Machalski said that local police were on-site Jan. 13 so that “parents feel okay with kids going back to school.”
The parish will add more surveillance cameras both inside and outside of the school, church and rectory, he said.
He was not yet sure of the cost in damages.
“It’s a sad thing people would do something like that to something that is sacred. This is a very holy place that people go to, and we should feel safe,” parishioner Wilhelmina Estevez said. “I feel sad for people that don’t understand how it is to be close to God.”
Melissa Enaje and Tim Harfmann contributed to this article.