NW Side Jewish cemetery vandalized

January 11, 2008 4:47:50 PM PST
The search is on for vandals who damaged dozens of grave markers in a cemetery on the city's Northwest Side.Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is asking for the public's help in tracking down the suspects.

Dart was clearly disturbed by what he saw, calling the offenders "cowards" and the crime "despicable."

The vandalism took place over the weekend at Westlawn Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery. But Dart turned to the public Friday in hopes that someone in the community can help lead investigators to the people responsible.

"The desecration of graves has a level in the circles of hell that go to the very bottom," said Dart.

Dart did not mince words in talking about the racist graffiti spray-painted on more than 50 headstones.

"The poor families who have loved ones here who would have to put up with something like this, it's just amazing," he said.

Dozens of headstones are sprayed with anti-Semitic images, such as swastikas, and the Star of David hanging from a gallows. Some grave markers also bear the phrase "white power" and 88, which the Anti-Defamation League says is a symbol for Heil Hitler. The vandalism was discovered Sunday afternoon by a manager at the cemetery.

"I really thought that I was not walking through the cemetery that I've worked at so long," said Vickie Pulido, Westlawn Cemetery.

Investigators say this is more than a teenage prank and that it took a few people to cause such damage, which is estimated at $100,000.

"It's a shocking event, but it's no surprise. There are active white supremacist groups nearby," said Jenna Benn, Anti-Defamation League.

In the meantime, the cemetery is in the process of notifying family members of those whose graves sustained damage for permission to remove and clean the headstones.

"To see this and to face it and see the disrespect for people who are dead, it's so sad," said Phil Ferkel, Westlawn Cemetery.

Dart says the offenders should be charged with a hate crime, as well as criminal damage to property.. Both are Class-3 felonies that carry two to five years in jail.

Anyone with information about the cemetery vandalism is asked to call the Cook County Sheriff's Office.