TITUSVILLE, Fla. - A man accused of breaking into an empty Titusville mosque and damaging property with a machete told a judge Tuesday that there was no malicious intent in the vandalism.
Michael Scott Wolfe, 35, was arrested in connection with the incident Monday.
He told a Brevard County judge that he’d had a few drinks on Jan. 1 and went to the mosque alone. He said the vandalism, which included him leaving raw bacon behind, was stupid.
Consumption of pork and products made from pork is forbidden in Islam.
He is facing a charge of criminal mischief, a misdemeanor count that was kicked up to a felony because it involved a religious institution. The charge could be enhanced as a hate crime depending on the evidence found by investigators.
“Whether it’s enhanced as a hate crime depends on the investigation because the statute specifically says the state must produce evidence of it being a hate crime before we can charge it,” assistant state attorney Gary Beatty said.
Some Muslims in central Florida were concerned for their safety after the incident.
Many parents kept their children away from an Islamic education facility on the first day back to school.
Repairs are still being made, but mosque leaders are hopeful they can reopen by Friday.
The building will need new surveillance cameras because Wolfe knocked down the cameras with the machete, police said.
“People are very concerned with security issues,” said Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.
His group operates the Titusville mosque and nine others in the region.
“I know several parents, once they heard the news, weren’t sure if it was safe enough to send their children to school,” said Musri.
Surveillance video shows the man, who was dressed in camo, damaging windows, cameras and lights.
“In general, we are trying to calm the community. After word got out, a lot of people are anxious,” said Musri.
According to the Council on American Islamic Relations, 2015 had the highest number of incidents at Muslim facilities nationwide.
Out of 70 incidents, 55 involved property damage.
“We believe this is a wonderful community. And one or two people will not change our understanding of what we know about the community,” said Musri.
Police said the investigation is ongoing.