Virginia school covered with anti-Semitic, threatening messages; community shares fear

Posted at 8:39 AM, May 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-14 08:39:05-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va., - More than a hundred parents, students and community members assembled outside the front entrance of Godwin High School for a vigil after "messages of hate" were discovered over the weekend.

Hateful words sprayed on to Mills Godwin High are now gone, but people in the community are still in disbelief and saddened that messages of hate showed up in big red letters.

School officials said a significant amount of vandalism, including graffiti that depicted a "violent threat" with the date May 15, was spotted at the school. Guns and a slew of racially charged and hateful words were sprayed on the front of the school.

"The images are hateful, disgusting and have zero place in society. We condemn these acts in the strongest terms," Henrico County Public Schools Communications Director Andy Jenks said.

The “Light Drives Out Hate” vigil was organized Monday evening by the volunteer and grassroots organization Together We Will Henrico.

Steering Committee member Tara Douglas told the crowd she became emotional and felt sick after seeing the vandalism.

"I woke up Sunday morning to hear of more spray painted expressions of hate and white supremacy, but this time on my high school," Douglas said. "We work together to send the message that hate has no home here."

Godwin parent Lynn Williams said her daughter, who will graduate in about a month, was afraid to come to school in light of the graffiti.

"We have to stand together, all of us, we have to stand together and be here for these kids," Williams said.

73rd District Delegate Debra Rodman (D-Henrico) and 72nd District Delegate Schuyler T. VanValkenburg listened to pleas from parents to enact laws to protect students.

Officials are looking at security footage to see who’s responsible. They are also increasing police patrols not only at Godwin, but also at near Douglas Freeman High School, which is near another incident of vandalism that happened late last week.

"When there are more police around. When you can see more police, it would tend to cut down the type of vandalism that we saw here and in the Freeman High School neighborhood," Jenks said.

Officials said the vandalism at Godwin was similar to the White Power and swastika graffiti discovered last week, but officials are not yet certain the crimes are connected.

Reaction from the religious community: "I'm mortified"

Meanwhile, the leader of a large Jewish organization in Richmond is telling people not to be intimidated by the actions.

“This is the time to show up. To go to synagogue, to go to church, to go to the mosque, to go and be out in the community,” said Daniel Staffenberg, CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond.

Staffenberg said he had a two-fold reaction to the vandalism. First, he said he wasn't surprised; hate and anti-Semitism incidents have been on the rise.

“The second is a little sadness and disappointment that we've got these messages out there for our kids and our communities that they have to deal with,” he said.

The graffiti referenced violence May 15, this Wednesday, leaving parents and students like Brenda and Katherine Fincky questioning what to do.

“It’s sad that this has happened, and I’m mortified. It’s making kids nervous and anxious,” Brenda said.

“It’s not something that's terribly uncommon to hear about. There have been threats in the past, but it’s definitely concerning,” Katherine said.

"When it becomes apparent who did this, we’re going to address it to the fullest possible extent," Jenks said.

If there aren’t new developments by Wednesday, Katherine Fincky said she’ll likely miss school.

“Probably, honestly. It’s kind of your entire life over a day of school,” she said.

Rev. Jamie Lynn Haskins, the University of Richmond Chaplain for Student Life, told the group, "Tonight I stand up to tell my children that they should not be afraid."