A former Seton Catholic School student and two other teenagers have been arrested and charged with trespassing and destruction of property in connection with anti-Christian vandalism discovered at the Manassas private school in October.
Manassas police charged Franklin Cardenas, 19, of Bonair Drive, last week with two counts each of trespassing, felony destruction of property and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Police say Cardenas spray-painted vulgar messages on the side of the school and defaced a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Police also arrested a 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy in connection with the crimes. Police said the 17-year-old had attended Seton. Police are not releasing the names of the youths because they are juveniles.
Detective Louis DeRamus III said yesterday that police consider the vandalism a hate crime and that FBI officials helped in the investigation.
"We believe it is a hate crime based on what was painted on the building and what was done," DeRamus said. "With any anti-religious message, you have to assume it is hate-crime-related."
Seton students discovered much of the damage Oct. 11. A group of students saw that side and rear walls of the school were sprayed with anti-Christian messages, such as "666," and a statue of the Virgin Mary was covered in black paint.
DeRamus said that the teenagers were found through a series of interviews and that Cardenas turned himself in Friday. DeRamus said there were no witnesses to the attacks.
DeRamus said the two juveniles also are suspected of taking part in a separate vandalism that is under investigation by the Prince William County Fire Marshal's Office.
In a statement, Police Chief John J. Skinner said the police department is "committed to the pursuit of suspects in hate crime investigations."
"Our detectives will continue to be vigilant and aggressive in the arrest and prosecution of all crimes committed against our churches and schools," Skinner said.
Seton officials have said that the school has treated the vandalism as more of an annoyance than a threat. Many of the school's 360 students participated in a rosary procession late last month as part of the healing process.
The vandalism was the second such incident at the school recently. Two weeks earlier, vandals had knocked off the head of a different statue of the Virgin Mary.
Bob Pennefather, Seton's dean of students, said the acts of vandalism are the first such attacks in the school's 25-year history.