UNIVERSITY CITY, Missouri — US Vice President Mike Pence condemned Wednesday a “vile act of vandalism” at a suburban St. Louis Jewish cemetery where more than 150 headstones were damaged earlier this week.
Pence, speaking to small business owners at a business in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton, Missouri, called the incident a “vile act of vandalism.”
He said he condemned “those who perpetrate it in the strongest possible terms.”
The Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in University City, Missouri, was found Monday with 154 headstones vandalized, many of them toppled over.
Since the vandalism, the cemetery has gotten a show of support from cleanup volunteers, well-wishers and financial contributors from across many faiths.
Muslim groups have launched a crowdfunding campaign for the cemetery, with a goal of $20,000. It has raised nearly $75,000.
Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish, organized a volunteer effort to help in the cleanup Wednesday, and an interfaith service was planned for the afternoon. A large crowd attended a candlelight vigil at the cemetery Tuesday night.
Pence later toured the cemetery with local officials and Jewish community members, helping to clean it up.
Investigators have been reviewing surveillance video to determine who was responsible. The Anti-Defamation League offered a $10,000 reward for the vandals’ arrest and conviction. Police say there is no evidence of a hate crime, but haven’t ruled out the possibility.
The vice president’s statement came a day after President Donald Trump broke his long silence on the reported uptick in anti-Semitic incidents, denouncing threats against Jewish community centers as “horrible” and “painful,” and saying more needed to be done “to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
Speaking after a tour of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump said: “This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”
The headstone damage was discovered hours after nearly a dozen Jewish centers were targeted with bomb threats, the latest wave in a string of similar scares. The threats continued Wednesday, with the New York headquarters of the Ant-Defamation League and a North Carolina Jewish school receiving bomb threats.
Pence, who toured the Dachau concentration camp in Germany Sunday with a Jewish survivor, said he lauded people from across Missouri who have “rallied with compassion and support.”
“You have inspired this nation,” Pence said.
Karen Aroesty, St. Louis regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the show of support from Christians, Muslims and other religions at the cemetery has been “extraordinary” but not surprising.
“That’s always been true in this region,” Aroesty said. “When things happen, the interfaith community comes together.”
Aroesty said the Jewish community was reeling.
“The emotional impact on this community is something different than I’ve seen before, and it’s really striking,” she said. “It’s especially hard for those folks who have several generations at the cemetery.”
Rosenbloom Monument Co. workers volunteered to put the toppled headstones back in place and by late Wednesday morning all but a few were restored.
Rosenbloom Monument owner Phil Weiss said eight to 10 headstones were broken, all of them made of marble. Most of the others were made of granite and sustained little or no damage, he said.
“Granite is pretty tough,” Weiss said.
The University City Council released a statement saying the city “is and always has been a community of inclusion — the people of University City will not tolerate hateful and hurtful acts.”