Police investigate graffiti, damage to Shelton crèche; Called 'vicious vandalism'

On the morning of Jan. 2, Marc Connolly saw something he never wanted to see. Someone had put graffiti on the roof of the crèche on the Huntington Green.

“I drove by and noticed markings on the roof of the manger,” said Connolly, who is permit holder for the annual Nativity scene.

Upon inspection that Friday morning, Connolly also found some boards had been broken in an apparent attempt to try to tear apart part of the wooden barn structure.

Two statements that could be interpreted as anti-religious were written on the roof, including “Christiainity greatest hoax,” with the word “Christianity” spelled wrong.

No major problems in the past

The crèche has been a holiday fixture on the Green for many decades. Connolly doesn’t remember other serious problems occurring through the years, although there have been some minor nuisance issues, such as figures being knocked over.

Wire mesh is used to protect the figures when the crèche is set up, and it has a fiberglass top to provide protection from rain and snow.

The structure is maintained by two local Scout units based at Huntington Congregational Church — Boy Scout Troop 101 and Cub Scout Pack 24.

The Shelton Exchange Club provides the figures inside the barn structure, which include baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, sheep, and other farm animals.

Connolly is the Boy Scout troop’s crèche committee chairman, and therefore takes out the needed permit from the Shelton Parks and Recreation Department to put up the display.

Taken down early due to damage

The crèche had been erected in early December, before the Huntington Green tree-lighting ceremony, and was to be taken down in early January.

After finding the damage, Connolly and others dismantled the Nativity scene on Jan. 2, earlier than had been planned.

He also contacted the Shelton Police Department to report the damage, which Connolly described as being a case of “vicious vandalism.”

Police Lt. Robert Kozlowsky, department spokesman, said the matter is under active investigation. “The officer assigned to the case has been following up on things,” he said.

As of late Monday, Kozlowsky said officers are attempting to talk to people who were in the area and are reviewing surveillance cameras from nearby businesses.

He said anyone with information may call the law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number at 203-924-1544.

Connolly: 'We're looking for leads'

Connolly is hoping the public can help find the culprit or culprits. “We’re looking for leads to help the police,” he said.

Ron Herrick, city parks and rec director, said the police have been in touch with his department, which oversees the Huntington Green.

He said serious vandalism usually is not a problem on the Green. “I’m very surprised,” Herrick said. “It’s been up there for many, many years. It’s unfortunate what happened.”

Freedom of expression and religion

Connolly said he is frustrated and fearful about what happened.

“I’m frustrated that in a country and community where people have the right to free expression, someone would stoop to vandalism,” he said. “This represents something sacred to people’s beliefs.”

The crèche is a symbol of religious freedom, and he looks forward to having fixtures representing other religions accompany the Nativity scene on the Green, “so we can learn more about their cultures,” Connolly said.

He is fearful about what else the perpetrators might do. “If they are willing to do this in such a public area — to try to break into it and to deface the manger — what else are they willing to do?” he asked.

Fixing the damage

Connolly said Scout members and adults will repair the damage during the summer. He estimated the damage at about $1,000, partly due to the need for rough-cut wood to create the rustic barn look.

It appears someone was trying to get inside the structure, and broke some boards in the process, he said. One of the Wise Men came apart, but this involved two sections of the figure that normally separate, he said.

Connolly said the wooden structure was well built and normally requires little or no maintenance in the off-season. The Nativity structure is stored inside on private property during the summer.

The other statement made in graffiti on the roof was “hurus, Attis, Jesus, all born 12/25,” which appears to be references to Horis, whom ancient Egyptians worshipped as a god, and Attis, a Roman god. Both could be considered pagan gods.