Anne Arundel County Police have arrested three men in connection to a string of hate crimes and vandalism this month targeting several churches.
Detectives on Tuesday filed four misdemeanor charges against brothers Blake Krenzer and Brandon Krenzer, of Gambrills. Officers say on June 13 the 19-year-olds vandalized Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ pride signs at Ark and Dove Presbyterian Church in Odenton.
An attorney was not yet listed as representing the men in Maryland court records Thursday afternoon.
The incident troubled community members and congregants at a time of year often associated with Juneteenth celebrations and LGBTQ pride parades. Authorities said several members of the public came forward with tips for police within 30 minutes of the department posting surveillance images on social media.
“These are amazing examples of community policing,” said Acting Police Chief Katherine Roberts during a news conference Thursday.
A day later in cases unrelated to the Krenzers, detectives arrested Jarren Alexander, of no fixed address, in connection with several incidents of vandalism this month at Fowler United Methodist and St. Phillips Episcopal churches in Annapolis. The destruction to Fowler United Methodist climbed to more than $100,000. St. Phillips was vandalized twice on June 10 and again on June 13, the same day as the incident at Ark and Dove Presbyterian Church.
The 23-year-old did not have an attorney listed in court records Thursday.
Following the vandalism at Fowler United Methodist, members of the church said pages had been ripped out of about 100 hymnals and Bibles and the building was in disarray. Some members were afraid to return to church following the incident.
The church’s pastor, Jerome Jones, said he’s still working with insurance to cover the cost of the damage. Other houses of worship in the area have donated hymnals and Bibles to replace the ones that were destroyed. And the church has received about $10,000 in donations, most of which has already been used, Jones said.
The day after the vandalism, congregants and volunteers tidied the space up in time for a prayer service. Troy Belt, a lifelong member and longtime trustee for Fowler, said the group spent the service praying for the then-unknown individual behind the vandalism.
“We all need to be rescued from sin,” the 62-year-old said Thursday.
Police have since maintained a presence at the church in the evenings and on weekends, Belt said.
Investigators identified Alexander with the help of an “astute” patrol officer, who responded to a nearby trespassing complaint and contacted detectives to help them connect the cases.
Authorities said Alexander, who is charged with trespassing and fourth-degree burglary, is also a suspect in another unnamed church vandalism case. Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Annapolis reported vandalism and destruction to its signs and flower beds on June 24.
Anne Arundel County has grappled in recent months with an increase in thefts, vandalism, destructions and burglaries targeting several places of worship, police said Thursday in a news release.
Roberts hopes the charges will send a clear message that hate crimes have no place in Anne Arundel County, she said.
“We will not tolerate hateful acts of any kind toward our places of worship or any individuals in this county,” she said. “Our department takes these heinous acts seriously.”
County Executive Steuart Pittman Jr. encouraged people to return to all four houses of worship, adding “we’re safer when we’re together.”
“Any perpetrators who think that a house of worship is a place to express their hate should learn from this that [police] will track you down and we will prosecute,” he said during the news conference. “If it’s somebody who needs help, they will get that help whether it’s mental health or otherwise. But they will also be prosecuted because this is criminal activity.”
Officials say they’re still investigating the cases to determine motive and whether the suspects have a history of mental health issues or any connections to known hate groups.
This article has been updated to correctly attribute a quote about community policing to the Acting Police Chief Katherine Roberts.