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WHAT KIND OF PERSON DAMAGES CHURCHES? EXPERTS SPECULATE ON MOTIVE IN RASH OF WINDOW-SMASHING VANDALISM

If a single culprit is behind the mass smashings of church windows in recent weeks, is it possible to sketch a personality profile of the person?

Members of the mental-health community were asked this question Tuesday, after yet another incident was added to the long list of vandalism stretching from downtown Buffalo to the northeast corner of the city.

"There's just not enough data," said Murray Levine, professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and a lawyer as well as a psychologist.

"Vandalism could be all kinds of things," he said. "You don't know whether you're dealing with kids playing games, or if it's a concerted effort by the same party."

Still, he said, if this vandalism is politically motivated, "you'd be dealing with people who had some sort of self-righteousness."

Or it could be "somebody with a specific gripe, feeling he's been wronged and that this is some way of taking revenge," he added. "That's also assuming it's all being done by the same party."

Dr. Bruno Schutkeker, a seasoned physician who has given mental profiles in criminal cases for many years, said a few general characteristics can be drawn.

"There are a lot of angry and dangerous people out there," he said. "Many of them have low IQs, are school dropouts, can't reason, lack judgment, are emotionally unstable and use alcohol or street drugs. Later they can't "This is a serial thing," he warned, "and it probably will happen again. Churches are dark at night, and there's nobody there, except on Sunday. They should keep vigils to guard them."

Steven Rashkin, a Buffalo public school psychologist, said that if it's youths who are smashing the windows, their motivation "can range from soup to nuts." He said he believes the publicity generated by the vandalism has given it a life of its own.

"Another kid can read something in the paper and say, 'You know what? That's a neat thing to do. I think I'll do it too, make a little more headlines.' "

Stephen W. Shanley, a clinical psychologist who has been following the vandalism closely, offered a number of possibilities.

"It may be somebody's strictly personal reaction to being turned down by a food pantry because he had some substance-abuse problem," he said. "Many of these churches have food pantries."

Another possibility, he said, was a religious fundamentalist of some stripe who believes divine images should not be represented in glass windows. If so, he added, it probably would be someone on the fringe of his group, acting without its approval.

Most of the targets were Catholic or mainline Protestant churches, but two were fundamentalist.

Whatever the motivation, Shanley said, the vandalism is "pretty single-minded," judging from its focus on churches.

"It's somebody who feels powerless," he suggested. "So they look for someone weak they can bully. What could be more defenseless than a church?"

In the latest incident, a vandal broke four windows early Tuesday at Prince of Peace Church of God in Christ, 669 Kensington Ave.

But police don't think the incident is related to other recent acts of church vandalism.

A witness reported seeing a young boy run from the scene. Capt. Michael Gasper of the Kensington Station said police do not think youths are involved in the other incidents.

Thirteen of the 15 vandalized churches are west of Main Street.

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