A statue of the Virgin Mary was discovered decapitated on the grounds of the Ozone Park parish named for her.
The 4-foot stone statue behind the rectory of St. Mary Gate of Heaven Church at 104th Street and 101st Avenue was found desecrated around 10 a.m. Monday morning.
Parish officials would not comment on the incident, but police from the 102nd Precinct were at the scene investigating Monday afternoon. An NYPD source said they were investigating the act of vandalism as a possible hate crime.
“It’s horrible, it’s disgusting,” said one parishioner who did not identify herself as she walked by and saw the statue. “I’ve been here 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Rosemary Messina, who works at a beauty salon across the street from the church, said she was disgusted by the desecration. Messina’s son, husband and brother-in-law all attended St. Mary Gate of Heaven School.
“Who would do this?” she asked after seeing the statue. “What kind of person would do this? I don’t understand.”
Messina noted that the vandalism was discovered on Three Kings’ Day, the celebration of when the Three Wise Men visited Jesus in the Bethlehem manger he was born in 12 days earlier. It is an especially important holiday to many Hispanic Catholics, who make up a large percentage of the ethnically diverse parish that includes a large number of newer Latino and West Indian immigrants mixed with Italian and Irish families who have lived in the neighborhood for decades.
Police have no suspects, but the area around the church has been rife with issues in the past year, including a drug ring that was busted less than a block to the west of the parish and a foreclosed home that neighbors said had become a drug den on 101st Road, one block to the east. Neighbors who live close to the site on 104th Street say they have seen teenagers and young adults hang out in the area around the statue, which includes a parking lot that sits behind the church between 104th and 103rd streets.
One resident who lived near the site did not want to be identified because she said she had called the police to report drug use in the area before.
“It’s not really a new thing,” the resident, who has lived in the area since 1989, said. “It goes back as long as I’ve lived here.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he was looking into the possibility that those responsible to face a stiffer penalty because the statue is religious.
“It really is unacceptable,” he said. “And whoever did this should face a penalty that is more than a slap on the wrist.”
Under state law, it is a felony to deface or vandalize a religious building, such as a synagogue or church, but that does not necessarily include statues or items outside of a religious institution.
The state Senate passed a law in 2010 that was supported by Addabbo which would explicitly include statues and other items on religious property, but that bill died in the state Assembly.
The statue is located several yards from the garden’s entrance on 104th Street and only feet from the eastern entrance to the church on parish property. It sits in an outdoor garden between the parish’s rectory building and living quarters for the priests, next to a table and chairs often used by the fathers in the summer. According to several longtime parishioners, the statue was placed in its location by a beloved former pastor more than two decades ago.
The Virgin Mary is the 110-year-old parish’s namesake saint. Every May, students gather to watch one of their own place a crown of flowers on a larger statue of Mary adjacent to the school on 104th Street, just steps from the desecrated sculpture.
“She’s our symbol,” Messina said. “To see this done to her is just heartbreaking. It’s a slap in our face.”