Hate crimes suspected after 7 Buddhist temples vandalized in O.C.; one suspect arrested
Investigators and civic leaders are looking into a rash of vandalism at seven Buddhist temples in Santa Ana and Garden Grove this month as potential hate crimes.
Police have one suspect in custody, but Wednesday said there are likely many others involved in what Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas called a “concerted effort” targeting the Buddhist community during a press conference at Chua Bao Quang Temple in Santa Ana.
There, unknown individuals have broken fingers off of statues of religious figures and stolen donation boxes and items of spiritual significance.
“More so than just the damage to the statues, these kinds of crimes are things that attack our core values,” said Rackauckas. He added that “these appear to be in the nature of hate crimes. Why else would it be done?”
During Wednesday’s press conference he, along with Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin pledged to bring an end to what they characterize as a series of attacks that have wounded not just the Buddhist community, but the Santa Ana area as a whole.
Do said the crimes are of deep concern to the area’s large Vietnamese-American community.
“These religious statues are more than just decorative. They are symbolic of the meaning of our community,” he said. “To have them be destroyed … does great harm to our community.”
Do said some residents have made complaints to his office, charging their reports of vandalism and theft have been brushed of as minor concerns by police.
Valentin said the department investigates every incident to the best of its ability, but oftentimes acts of vandalism aren’t immediately reported, which can make it difficult for officers to identify witnesses or collect fresh evidence. He urged residents to alert police to every incident, paying close attention to where it took place and what type of damage was done because that information may help them identify a pattern of behavior.
“It’s difficult for us to do our job and link a series together if they aren’t reported,” said Valentin. “There is no minor crime. Please report every incident so that we can look into it.”
Trang Thu Pham, 48, of Santa Ana was taken into custody Wednesday on suspicion of causing $67,000 worth of damage to 11 statues at Huong Tich Temple on West 5th Street, authorities said. That vandalism occurred in incidents on Aug. 6, Aug. 14 and Aug. 21, police said.
Valentin said she had been convicted of two similar crimes that happened at the same temple in 2015 and 2016. Rackauckas said his office is weighing hate crime charges against her.
The abbot of Huong Tich Temple, Alice Hoa Nguyen, said she would sometimes lay awake at night wondering why Pham would repeatedly desecrate her community’s place of worship.
“After she was brought to court, I forgave her,” said Nguyen “[Followers of Buddhism] don’t want people to suffer. But now, I don’t know.”
Police suspect that Pham is only one of any number of individuals or groups of individuals targeting the Buddhist community. They are urging the public to stay vigilant in helping to protect the values of all residents regardless of their faiths or ethnicities.
“Right now we are talking about the values of the Buddhist religion but it wouldn’t necessarily be limited to that, because next time it could be a different religion,” said Rackauckas. “It might be Catholicism or Judaism or something else.”