ROCKVILLE – The Rockville City Police are investigating a swastika painted on a wall at Richard Montgomery High School.
Police are investigating the finding of a swastika in bright-orange spray paint on a wall of the school building on Jan. 18. Richard Montgomery administrators contacted parents and students in an email on Jan. 22 to inform them of the incident. Principal intern Kiera Butler confirmed that the swastika had been removed.
“It is with great disappointment and a sense of urgency that I send you this message,” said Butler in the email. “I am writing to inform you that a hate crime took place on school grounds over the weekend. This is the second incident within the last month in which individuals defaced school property with either a word or symbol of hate.”
Sergeant Bill Nieberding, supervisor of the Rockville City Police criminal investigations unit, said the department is considering the possibility of a student or students being responsible for the spray painting. However, the school community’s response to the spray painting is crucial as the investigation continues.
“Whether perpetrated by a student in our building or a person in the community, we need to stand united to send the message that we are a school that embraces our diversity and will not allow the infiltration of hatred,” Butler said.
This is the second incident at Richard Montgomery of this magnitude in a month, according to Butler. On Dec. 27, someone rearranged plastic cups that were adorned on a fence to spell the words “Seniors 2019” so that the cups spelled the N-word. School officials spoke to students about the incidents
About two years have passed since county police reported a spike in hate- or bias-based incidents throughout the county in 2016. People reported 75 hate crimes or bias-based incidents to county police by mid-December 2016, compared with 65 such incidents reported in 2015.
Despite the two incidents, Nieberding said the events at Richard Montgomery do not signify a trend and under state law, the incident with the cups is a hate-based incident but not a crime. Bias-based crimes include vandalism, verbal and written intimidation and physical assault.
“We generally see a few things [hate-based incidents] a year,” Nieberding said. “… (but) under Maryland state law it’s not considered a hate crime because they didn’t damage anything, it didn’t break anything.”
In 2016, about 41 percent of hate-based crimes were directed toward a religious group, and about 37 percent were racially motivated, according to Montgomery County Police. Bethesda led the county’s police districts with the most bias crimes -with 19 in 2016 – followed by Rockville and Germantown, which each had 13.
“We did see an increase, you know, during the election cycle, just prior to the election and immediately after the election,” Montgomery County Police Spokesperson Officer Rick Goodale said in 2016.
“We are also aware some hate crimes are never reported to the police,” said Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger in 2016.
Reaction was swift, with students and alumni condemning the actions as hateful online and in-person.
“As a Jewish man, I’m deeply offended and disgusted by this,” said Alex Leikin, Richard Montgomery class of 2006.
Leikin said he believes if a staff member or faculty member did the spray painting, they should be punished, but if police determine a student was responsible, the school should give the student a different punishment than an adult.
“This is a sad and demoralizing act of hatred towards a school that is by its very nature heavily multicultural,” said Aislinn Cavanaugh, Richard Montgomery class of 2000. “I look forward to how this drives the school community to stand together against it and show that intolerance will never be allowed.”
Montgomery County Public Schools did not provide a comment at this time. Police officials confirmed on Jan. 30 that the investigation is still ongoing.