Leaders of a church in Northern Virginia walked into the sanctuary on Tuesday and discovered racist graffiti on the walls, the cushion in every pew slashed open and the cords in the sound system clipped.
The vandalism marked the seventh time since May 11 that Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Anandale, Virginia, has been defaced — and this time was the most vile.
Vandals wreaked havoc on the main worship hall of Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
The sanctuary walls were graffitied with racial slurs, a swastika and a message, "Youre (sic) all going to hell."
An alter of candles was shattered. The cords to the sound system were clipped. The cushions of every pew were cut from end to end. The kneeling cushions were slashed.
During the previous six break-ins, church leaders tell News4 that vandals seemed to focus on the basement, including by breaking windows. They have escalated since.
The string of crimes began on Friday, May 11, when police say the church was burglarized. Police say the vandals destroyed property on Wednesday May 16 and burglarized and destroyed property on Monday, May 18.
During a burglary on Monday, May 21, Brennan Hutchinson, a member of the church, confronted the intruder. A single masked suspect hit Hutchinson in the head with a fire extinguisher.
"He hit me. I think I was just in his direct path of exit of the the building. And he left as soon as he hit me," Hutchinson said.
The church member was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, police say.
The vandals returned about two weeks later on Sunday, June 3 and Monday, June 4, again burglarizing and destroying property, police say.
Fairfax County are investigating whether the incidents are related.
"I think that if there are crimes like this taking place, this church must be up to something good," Rev. Dan Roschke, the church's incoming pastor, said. "Because this church is standing for a welcome in this community that's obviously upsetting somebody" (Roschke's first day at the new church was Tuesday).
The church hasn't shied away from political statements, publishing a letter written by Metro D.C. Synod bishop Richard H. Graham asking President Donald Trump to stop the policy of separating children from their parents at the border.
The church also has a diversity and inclusion policy stating, "we welcome as members of our extended family all those who have ever felt excluded by the Church because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, physical or mental challenges, financial resources, or family status."
Interim Pastor Rev. Elijah Mwitanti told News4 that he doesn't hold a grudge against the perpetrator.
"I say this very sincerely: I've never held any grudge against this person. My thoughts about this have always been spiritual and not personal," Mwitanti said.
Roschke echoed the sentiment, saying, "This is what we do in a church, is work on forgiveness."
Church members were still urged in the June newsletter to take extra safety precautions.