Dozens of headstones toppled at Jewish cemetery in Missouri

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. (AP) — Vandals have damaged or tipped over as many as 200 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in suburban St. Louis, leaving the region's Jewish community shaken and anxious.

No arrests have been made in attacks that happened late Sunday or early Monday at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Missouri. Investigators have not yet determined if it was a hate crime or vandalism, but the impact on the Jewish community is the same, said Karen Aroesty, St. Louis regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

"Anxiety is high," Aroesty said Tuesday. "Your loved ones are there. Your memories are there."

Police Lt. Fredrick Lemons said investigators are looking at surveillance camera footage to help determine who pushed over the headstones at the cemetery that opened in 1893. Aroesty said many of tipped over stones were broken, but that there didn't appear to be any graffiti.

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Politicians and other religious leaders expressed support for the cemetery and the St. Louis region's Jewish community.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish, posted a statement on Facebook late Monday night calling the vandalism "despicable" and "cowardly." Greitens on Tuesday posted a request for volunteers to join him Wednesday afternoon in helping to clean the cemetery.

Two Muslim organizations, the Islamic Society of North America and the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, both spoke out against the vandalism.

"We encourage our members to reach out to their local synagogue and Jewish neighbors to express their solidarity and support and to generously support the rebuilding of the recently desecrated cemetery," ISNA President Azhar Azeez said in a statement.

Messages to the cemetery director were not immediately returned Tuesday. The cemetery's Facebook page said it hopes to publish names of those with damaged headstones by Wednesday morning.

The Missouri House of Representatives in Jefferson City held a moment of silence Tuesday in response to the vandalism. Rep. Stacey Newman, a St. Louis Democrat, told colleagues it was "vital that this body know the pain the St. Louis community is in today.

"The grief and the sadness of this act is overwhelming, completely overwhelming," Newman said.

Aroesty said the Jewish Community Center in suburban St. Louis and another in Overland Park, Kansas, near Kansas City, were both victims of bomb threats last month and last fall. She urged President Donald Trump to take action to show support for Jewish people.

"What is the government's position relative to rising anti-Semitism and intolerance generally, and what will the government do to put a stop to it?" Aroesty asked. "We've been asking that for several weeks now."

During a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Tuesday morning, Trump denounced the recent threats against the Jewish community, calling them, " horrible and ... painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil." The president did not say what action he plans to take.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,