LACONIA, N.H. — The Laconia State School has been hit with racist graffiti again, in what officials see as an escalation of prior vandalism because this time it names a prominent member of the city’s Jewish community.
Local, state, and federal authorities are investigating the incident, according to Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer.
That’s in addition to a prior investigation after community concerns were brought to the authorities in March. The antisematic vandalism has been painted over since it was reported to police on Sunday morning, Hosmer said. City officials want to keep the victim’s identity private to protect their safety.
“I’m angry,” the community member who was targeted told the Globe in an interview. “I am not scared.”
A photo of the vandalism obtained by the Globe shows a white wall with a swastika, an ethnic slur against Jewish people, and the symbol of a Jewish star crossed out. It names a community member and the “ADL,” an acronym for the Anti-Defamation League, whose mission is to stop defamation of Jewish people.
Hosmer said the vandalism is particularly troubling because it targets an individual. Past vandalism included generic anti-Black, anti-Jewish, and anti-LGBTQ symbols, and it wasn’t investigated by the police until several months after they believed it had been painted. Hosmer said this vandalism is more fresh, which could give investigators a better chance at identifying the perpetrator.
“When they call someone out by name I think that that threat becomes very real and specific,” Hosmer said. “Calling out an individual does take it to a new level. It’s a reminder of how vigilant we need to be in protecting the values of this community as well as individuals in the community.”
Additional cameras have been placed at the State School as of Monday, and Hosmer said the site will be closely monitored in the days and weeks to come. The state is in the process of selling the property to a developer, a deal Hosmer said is expected to close sometime between September and December, but he said the property is in the local police’s jurisdiction.
“We will not be intimidated, we will not back down and we will stand and do whatever it takes to protect our community members,” said Hosmer.
He asked residents who walk or bike on the property to alert the authorities if they have additional information about the vandalism or notice additional vandalism.
Jewish leaders were alerted to the latest vandalism as they are celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish high holidays.
“The escalation due to the fact that one of our members was specifically called out in the graffiti does make it more serious,” said Ira Keltz, president of the Temple B’nai Israel in Laconia.
Keltz and the Temple’s Rabbi Jan Katz put out a statement condemning the antisemitic graffiti.
“This reprehensible act goes against the principles of tolerance, respect, and understanding that our community holds dear,” the statement reads. “We are deeply saddened that such hatred and bigotry exist in our community.”
There will be an extra police patrols at the temple for the upcoming Yom Kippur services this weekend, according to city officials and the Temple president. The temple has independently taken additional security measures in recent years, like upgrading building alarms and security system and video monitoring with a 2020 homeland security grant, according to Keltz.
More than 80 families belong to the congregation, he said.
Lois Kessin, a longtime member of the temple, said she believes the timing of the attack was not coincidental. “These are the 10 holiest days in the Jewish religion and they came at us,” she said. Kessin has been outspoken about the graffiti for months, urging the city to take the vandals seriously. Some of the graffiti has been signed by neo-nazi groups including the Nationalist Social Club, or NSC-131.
She said the city’s response shows it is now taking the vandalism seriously.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General confirmed that its Civil Rights Unit is coordinating with the Laconia Police Department on an investigation.
“Our Civil Rights Unit is aware of the incident and is working with the Laconia Police Department, which is the point agency for the investigation, to investigate the matter. Because this is an ongoing investigation, the Unit cannot comment any further at this time,” a spokesperson for the department said in a written statement.
Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield could not be reached for comment.