‘It certainly brings back horrific memories of anti-Semitism’: Waterbury community reacts to arrests in connection to graffiti on ‘Holy Land’

New Haven

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Three people have been arrested in connection to the most recent vandalism at ‘Holy Land’ in Waterbury. Locals say this time was especially heinous due to the content of the graffiti.

RELATED: Waterbury police arrest 3 suspects in last week’s ‘Holy Land’ vandalism

Tuesday, crews cleaned up the graffiti spray-painted on the crosses at the Waterbury ‘Holy Land’ landmark last week. Still, that doesn’t erase what Jimmie Kight saw with his own eyes last Thursday.

“It was disgusting,” he said.

He was so shocked, he took pictures of it — language and symbols, swastikas — all offensive to Jewish people. To members of Waterbury’s Jewish community, it was like a punch to the gut.

“With the history of anti-Semitism throughout the world,” Shuly Lieber said. “It’s something you never want to be faced with.”

Kight’s pictures were posted on Facebook and spread like wildfire. He was the first person to see the graffiti.

Last Thursday, he called the mayor’s office, letting officials know it had happened. Kight says the reaction from the public on social media was overwhelming.

“People were so mad,” Kight said.

When police found out, they went to work trying to find out who did this.

They were able to produce a couple of pictures of their own from surveillance cameras in the area. One came from a nearby Target store. Police posted a surveillance picture of three suspects walking out of the store after buying spray paint the same day Kight reported the vandalism.

Once police put out those pictures, the public came forward in droves helping them with possible identifications.

“We received a tremendous response from our community in a very short period of time,” said Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo. “We were able to identify Heniel Centeno, of Waterbury, 23 years of age, Yianyilee Mejia, of Waterbury, 21 years of age, and a Hispanic female, 17 years of age, of Waterbury, as the suspects who were responsible for the criminal mischief that occurred at Holyland.”

Two of three suspects arrested for anti-Semitic graffiti on Holy Land in Waterbury – Heniel Centeno, of Waterbury, 23, (right), Yianyilee Mejia, of Waterbury, 21 (left) – Waterbury PD – 12 08 20

Chief Spagnolo says while he’s dismayed about the anti-Semitism, he does praise all those who came forward on social media, denouncing this form of hatred by identifying the suspects.

“I am so proud to be part of this community — receiving the assistance that we did from the community,” he said.

As for the suspects and the charges they now face: “All three were charged with criminal trespass, criminal mischief in the first degree, conspiracy to commit criminal mischief in the first degree, and Centeno was also charged with intimidation by bias. The City of Waterbury and its residents will not tolerate intimidation based on someone’s race, their culture, or their religious beliefs,” said Chief Spagnolo.

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