Arrest made in Kentucky Swaminarayan temple vandalism incident

Kentucky State Rep. Nima Kulkarni addresses a press conference at the Swaminarayan temple in Buechel, Jan. 30. The temple was defaced with anti-Hindu messages. 

The Louisville Metro Police Department has arrested a 17-year-old white male for vandalizing a Swaminarayan Temple in Buechel, Kentucky, Detective Sgt. Russell Montfort of the 6th Division announced at a press conference, Feb. 1.

The culprit was charged with third-degree burglary and first-degree criminal mischief Montfort said, adding that the arrest was made on Jan. 31, after he received a tip that morning. The juvenile has made a statement confessing the crime, Montfort said.

Surveillance camera across the street from the temple did not pick up anything, he said. The police department did not release the name of the juvenile as he is under 18, but Montfort said at the press conference that he was a student in Jefferson County Public Schools.

“I can’t emphasize enough that the tip that came through us through Crime Stoppers led us to the culprit,” Montfort said. He also said that though the vandalism was religion-based, the juvenile was not charged with hate crime. The hate crime charge is something that the prosecutors could attach to the earlier charges, he said.

Recapping the events of the vandalism Montfort said that sometime between Jan. 27 evening and Jan. 30 morning, vandals broke a window downstairs near the entrance to the temple. The temple was defaced with black graffiti and anti-Hindu messages, he said. 

Arrest made in Kentucky Swaminarayan temple vandalism incident

Meanwhile, at a press conference held Jan. 30, the morning after the incident, “Louisville Metro Police Department had called the desecration of the temple a hate crime,” Insider Louisville reported."The desecration of this temple is heartbreaking," news reports quoted Conrad as saying. “I want the people of this temple to know that we will stand with them. We will do our best to keep them safe, and we will do what we need to do to make Louisville a safer city."

Raj Patel, a spokesman for Swaminarayan Temple told Courier Journal that nobody was at the temple when the vandalism happened. The temple has been at its current location for five years, he told the paper, adding that between 60 to 100 people usually attend Sunday worship. "Our main concern is just making sure that we feel safe when we come back to this temple to pray," Patel said. "We shouldn't have to look behind our shoulders or our backs to feel that there is someone out here to get us."

Mayor Greg Fisher who visited the temple on Jan. 30 said the incident “is another example of the work we still have to do as a city and a nation to make sure we live to our ideals of equality, of a country where everyone is treated with the respect we all deserve.” Louisville is a welcoming, compassionate city, he said. “Anytime we see hatred or bigotry we will stand against it. The cowards who did this have only given our community more fuel and determination to embrace compassion, understanding, and each other.”

Also attending the press conference was State Rep. Nima Kulkarni, the first Indian-American elected to the Kentucky General Assembly in November. She said the vandalism was an act of divisiveness. "It was an act of intimidation," she told Courier Journal. "It was an act designed to weaken our faith and our community. I know that we're better than this."

On her Facebook page she wrote: “We must take this opportunity to renew faith in our community and rise above these hurtful acts.”

Hindu-American groups have also condemned the attacks. A statement released by Hindu American Foundation’s director of Government Relations Jay Kansara said: “It’s no secret that hate crimes are on the rise against Hindus in the United States. We at HAF are shocked but sadly not surprised by this ugly incident of vandalism, apparently by Christian supremacists unable to tolerate minority faiths in Louisville. HAF is grateful that that local, state and federal officials in Kentucky have pledged their support to the Hindu- American community to stand together in the face of such bigotry and intimidation.”

Speaking on behalf of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of American and the American Hindus Against Defamation, Ajay Shah, vice president of VHPA for Awareness and PR and convener of AHAD called the incident a “hate filled attack on the most peaceful religious minority in the U.S.”

As part of his Lean Into Louisville initiative, Mayor Fisher has asked members of the community to gather at the temple on Feb. 2 to help with the cleanup. Launched in January 2019, Lean Into Louisville “is an unprecedented series of activities, art exhibits, conversations and presentations to explore and confront the history of and legacy of all forms of discrimination and inequality,” its website says.

“Let's show our support for our Hindu brothers and sisters and demonstrate to our community that compassion is the foundation of peace in our world of many faith traditions and cultures,” Fisher said.

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