Gurnee woman charged in religious vandalism spree
A Gurnee woman who told police she is "angry with religion" has been arrested and charged with vandalizing 21 houses of worship in Lake County during a six-day spree, authorities said Friday.
Meghan Heinze, 22, of the 100 block of Wellington Court, was charged in Lake County bond court with 10 counts of criminal defacement of a place of worship, 10 counts of institutional vandalism, and two counts of criminal damage to a place of worship, prosecutors said.
If found guilty of the most serious charge, Heinze could be sentenced up to seven years in prison, Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said after Heinze's bond hearing.
"We will be reviewing all the charges and may add additional charges, depending on what the evidence shows," Nerheim said.
Heinze was ordered held on $500,000 bail by Judge Raymond Collins, of which 10 percent is required for her to be released.
Authorities said Heinze vandalized 10 houses of worship in Gurnee, nine in Waukegan, one in Libertyville and one in unincorporated Lake County near Green Oaks. The attacks, which included graffiti and broken windows, took place between Feb. 14 and Feb. 20, officials said.
The targets included St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Christian Church, 1400 N. O'Plaine Road, and the nearby Islamic Foundation North at 1751 S. O'Plaine Road. The vandalism involved an obscene message accompanied by a smiley face in red spray paint near the entrances of those two places of worship among others, officials have said.
On Feb. 19, top officials from both institutions spoke against what were described as hateful actions during consecutive news conferences at each location.
"The vandal might not have expected the interfaith community to unite against hate in the powerful way that it did. This unity, along with our cooperation with a dedicated group of city officials and law enforcement professionals, have helped bring justice to the religious institutions that have been affected," Aymen Abdel Halim, communications director for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said in a statement Friday. The council represents 58 organizations.
He described the actions as "hate crimes" and said the Chicago-area Muslim community appreciated the work of city and law enforcement officials in apprehending the person involved. The organization has received numerous calls from the Catholic Archdiocese, Presbyterian Church, United Methodist Church and Chicago Board of Rabbis offering support and services, he said.
The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago also issued a statement.
"In the spirit of the approaching Lenten season, I would pray that Meghan is repentant of her acts of vandalism and that we, people of faith, find it in our hearts to forgive her, hoping that she gets the help she apparently needs," it read.
During Friday's bond hearing, Assistant State's Attorney Paola DeLeon-Bond said a video and still picture captured the image of someone vandalizing a house of worship in Gurnee. That screen shot was distributed to area police departments and the media for assistance in finding the suspect.
DeLeon-Bond said the break in the case came when police officers attending branch court Thursday saw a person matching the description of the suspect, then obtained the woman's information during court proceedings.
After court, the officers reviewed the video and noticed the matching coat and vehicle, she said.
Officers went to Heinze's house that day, DeLeon-Bond said, and Heinze told officers, "This is about the church vandalism, isn't it?"
DeLeon-Bond said Heinze admitted to the vandalism, adding she was "angry with religion." DeLeon-Bond said Heinze told police she was angry because "everyone is following a book written thousands of years ago."
In Heinze's bedroom, officers found red spray paint used to write obscene statements on exterior walls of the houses of worship, and a baseball bat used to break windows in various locations, DeLeon-Bond said.
She also said family members told police Heinze has been watching "videos about serial killers and Nazis" and was looking into obtaining a gun.
After the hearing, Heinze's mother -- who asked not to be identified -- approached Nerheim and said, "I apologize for my child's actions."
The crying woman also said Heinze has no prior convictions, and that she was "not in her right mind."
Heinze is due back in court March 11 for bond review.