WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A Wilmington pastor is preaching a message of forgiveness after messages of hate were spray-painted on the back of a strip mall building that includes his church. A house in the city was also vandalized in a similar manner.
Thursday morning, shopping center staff at 2101 Market Street in Wilmington discovered vulgar and racist words and pictures spray-painted on the back of the building.
The strip mall includes Burnt Mill Creek Billiards and Wine Bar, The Bridge Church, The Premium Weft, and Candle Nut Restaurant.
Cryptic numbers, racist language, and symbols were painted on the building's exterior and a door.
Pastor Ethan Welch of The Bridge Church believes his worship center was specifically targeted because of an ongoing series on inclusivity.
“It’s so sad and heartbreaking. We are intentionally a multi-ethnic church that addresses racism and fights for unity in our city. This may have been a coincidence, but the details would say otherwise. We feel we were targeted,” said Welch.
A few of the most vulgar images were painted over, but some have been left so people can see the reality of what happened, said Welch.
“This has happened at a couple other locations in town, some of it was anti-Semitic, some of it was anti-homosexual. What we experienced here was anti-Black, anti-African American,” said Welch.
Despite the disturbing nature of the messages and images, Welch said he has already forgiven the person behind the vandalism.
"Whoever did this, we want you to know, we love you, we forgive you, you're welcome here," said Welch. "You should come on Sunday, we would be able to meet you, and we're just going to forgive you, wherever you are and whoever you are."
The pastor filed a police report with the Wilmington Police Department (WPD), which is actively investigating and asking for information from the community about who committed the crime, said Jennifer Dandron, WPD spokesperson.
The Snipes Academy of Arts & Design has windows overlooking the back of the building and the spray painted messages are within viewing distance.
Lamont Antieau, a manager at the Candle Nut Restaurant, condemns the messages of hate on the back of the building.
“I saw it this morning. Repulsive. Juvenile," said Antieau. "There’s no place for that. It’s not something you want behind your business. It’s certainly not a reflection of how we feel.”
“I think they’re probably doing it for attention or they have some kind of beef with the people that work here," said waitress Stephanie Taylor.
Staff at The Premium Weft declined to comment.
Hunter Ford, owner of Burnt Mill Creek Billiards and Wine Bar, believes the vandals intention was to get a rise out of people.
“I don’t think it was racially-motivated, but what I see that stuck with me is it’s a very juvenile thing to do," said Ford.
“You can’t spell a bad word correctly - how stupid are you?" said Ford, referring to the vulgar words which were misspelled.
He doesn’t believe the businesses or church was specifically targeted.
“This was a kid that needs some direction, and I really applaud my neighbors, because I think they’re awesome," said Ford, referencing that the pastor has invited the person behind the vandalism into the church with open arms.
A house in Wilmington on the 500 block of S. 11th St. was also vandalized with the same tag as the shopping center. The house had homophobic language spray painted on the front and side of the exterior.
The landlord who rents the house out said it is currently vacant, and she was contacted by police that the vandalism occurred overnight Wednesday. She said she has no idea who spray-painted the hateful messages or who is behind the crime.
Earlier this week, the Cape Fear Rugby Club discovered its field had been vandalized with vulgar and hateful spray-painted images.
“We are investigating the possibility they could be connected,” said Dandron.