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St. Monica Catholic Church's track team on Monday passes by a decapitated Virgin Mary statue partially covered with a plastic bag. Police are investigating the vandalism as a hate crime. The crime allegedly occurred sometime Sunday morning before Easter services. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CALIFORNIA AVE. — Santa Monica Police are investigating an alleged hate crime after officials with St. Monica Catholic Church discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary beheaded shortly before Easter services commenced.

A priest found the 55-year-old marble statue, which stands on the corner of Seventh Street and California Avenue, decapitated around 5:45 a.m. on Sunday, spotting the head on the ground just a few feet away. The top of the statue was covered with a white plastic bag before service began.

“Even though it was a sad event, it didn’t take away from the joy of Easter and celebrating Christ’s resurrection,” Jason Farmer, the church spokesman, said. “The joy was still sustained and celebrated throughout the day.”

Police have not identified any suspects.

“Anytime a church or school is targeted, we look at it as a possible hate crime,” SMPD Lt. Darrell Lowe said. “In this case, since the vandalism was of a very important figure within the Catholic religion, we’re classifying it and investigating it as a hate crime.”

Authorities said they are not sure how the head was removed, but Farmer said that the top is not detachable.

The statue, which stands at about 5.5 feet tall and is mounted on a 3.5-foot-tall pedestal, was dedicated in 1954 in memory of Monsignor N. Conneally, who was the head of the church from 1923-1949.

The statue was vandalized in 2002 when both hands were taken off. The perpetrator was never caught, Farmer said.

The statue will be repaired and restored, Farmer said. A cost estimate was not available at presstime.

“The church considers it to be sad and there are certainly questions about why this was done,” Farmer said. “But our sadness is brief, especially in the celebration of Easter.

He said the church considers the incident as a challenge to be more welcoming and caring to those who are struggling or hurting in the community.

“What has happened to the statue is an invitation for us to live out a deeper, more profound love for others,” he said.

Anyone with information is urged to contacted the SMPD at (310) 458-8419.

melodyh@smdp.com

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