No suspects in vandalism of Hindu temple, school

Law enforcement officials said Thursday they have no suspects so far in two cases of harassing graffiti at a Hindu temple and a junior high school in Bothell.

Gov. Jay Inslee, meanwhile, said vandals there and at another Hindu temple in Kent, and perpetrators of a recent spate of violence against gays in Seattle, all “appear to be fueled by intolerance.”

“I am condemning these acts of intolerance, intimidation and violence,” he told reporters at a news conference in Olympia.

A swastika and the words, “get out,” were spray-painted on the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Bothell.

Nearby Skyview Junior High School was tagged with two red swastikas and the words, “Muslims get out,” and, “Muslims be gone.” The vandalism was discovered Feb. 15.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the vandalism at the temple, which is on unincorporated land. The Bothell Police Department is handling the investigation of graffiti at the school, two blocks away in the city. The FBI also is monitoring the cases.

“There are still elements that act as agents of intolerance and hate, and we have got to stand up against them every day,” the governor said Thursday. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s targeted at Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, gays, lesbians or anyone else in our society. They are intolerable.”

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said the Hindu temple case is being investigated as malicious harassment, a felony under state law.

“This is our hate-crime statute — the state just doesn’t label it as that,” she said.

Bothell Police Capt. Denise Nielsen said detectives there, too, are investigating the vandalism at the school as malicious harassment.

In Olympia, the governor was asked if he considered the incidents to be hate crimes.

“I always try to reserve judgment with these criminal investigations but it is difficult to conclude that it’s not, given the nature of what was done to these facilities,” Inslee said.

Two leaders of the Bothell temple met privately with Inslee before the news conference. Afterward, they lauded the governor for addressing the incidents and said they will leave it to investigators to determine if the vandalism was a hate crime.

“We don’t want to pass judgment,” said Mani Vadari, the vice chairman of temple and one of its founding members, but “we know these kinds of statements are hurtful and have no place in society.”

Ireton said the sheriff’s office has not identified suspects. Bothell police also have few leads.

“There really hasn’t been much progress with the case, unfortunately,” Nielsen said. “We haven’t gotten any tips or information to help us move forward.”

Investigators are hoping someone will step forward with information.

The FBI is sharing information with local law enforcement, said Ayn Dietrich-Williams, spokeswoman for the bureau’s Seattle division.

The FBI could become more involved if evidence proves to be substantial enough to build a federal criminal case, she said. But such cases aren’t always prosecuted federally if a state prosecution would yield equal justice.

Dietrich-Williams said the bureau refrains from labeling incidents as hate crimes but continues to work with local law enforcement to determine if it was “bias-motivated” and a violation of federal law.

Nit Niranjan, chairman of the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center, said members hope to talk with those responsible and educate them.

“We’re not here to punish them. We’re here to make sure they understand who we are,” he said. “In any religion, there’s no place for violence and hate.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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