Police to investigate Melbourne church vandalism as hate crime

Bishop Jacquelyn Gordon of the New Shiloh Christian Center in Melbourne says she felt bad when she learned vandals smashed the front windshield of the church truck overnight Saturday, and then drove it into a four-foot pool of standing water. Her husband had donated it to the church.

"I really feel bad about it, because I talked him into giving it so we can use it here for the lawn equipment and stuff like that, and now it's vandalized."

But that wasn't what gave the leader of this black church the chills. Spray-painted on the side of the truck were the words "SS Charleston 2." Police say its a reference to the murders of nine black church members last month in Charleston, South Carolina.

"I really don't want my family to lose me, because I wanted to pull a group of people together to change lives, and change the community and worship."

"Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are believing it is a hate crime towards this church," says Commander Dan Lynch with the Melbourne Police Department.

Police say they believe there are multiple suspects who may be connected to all three vandalism cases here over the past six months. This time, they also broke inside and knocked over a vase and set off fire extinguishers. They also allegedly stole a large statue, similar to this picture, of an eagle landing on a branch. At the moment, detectives say it's there best clue to finding the alleged hate filled criminals.

"Chief Mimbs is disgusted by it," Lynch added.  "It has no place in our city. We will vigorously investigate it and work with the State Attorney's Office to vigorously prosecute them once we find out who they are."

Bishop Gordon says her flock is weary of these attacks on their church, adding, it's testing their faith.

"Im just praying that they will keep the faith, and just hold on a little longer help is on the way. I'm praying that help is on the way."