When he got to the mosque on New Year’s Day, he pulled a machete out of his backpack, surveillance video showed.
Then he started to slash at the windows and lights of the Islamic Society of Central Florida in Titusville, Fla. — shattering the glass and even breaking some of the mosque’s security cameras, the Orlando Sentinel reported after the incident in January 2017.
On and around the door of the mosque, police found a slab of raw bacon, a product that is forbidden in religions like Islam and Judaism, Florida Today reports.
Michael Wolfe, 37, was arrested and charged with vandalizing the mosque just days later. When police searched Wolfe’s house in Titusville, they found camouflage pants, the machete and the backpack — all of which had been worn or used by the suspect in security footage from the mosque, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Wolfe pleaded guilty on Dec. 5 to vandalism and hate crime charges, according to the Brevard and Seminole County State’s Attorney’s Office.
“He entered a plea deal and plead guilty to vandalizing the mosque itself with hate crime enhancement, making it a felony,” said Todd Brown, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office, in a statement. “He waived his right to a pre-sentencing investigation.”
In the last months of 2016 — just before the Florida mosque attack — the number of hate crimes reported in the U.S. spiked to the highest level in several years, according to FBI data. About 6,120 hate crimes were reported to the FBI in 2016, making last year’s total a marked increase from 2015, when 5,850 hate crimes were reported to the bureau, CNN reports.
Wolfe has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years of probation — and he is prohibited to ever return to the mosque, the state’s attorney’s office said.
At the time of the incident, Muslim leaders in the community told the Orlando Sentinel that they thought it was unlikely the suspect had wanted to steal anything — and, based on the pork, which is prohibited by Islam, it was more likely that the incident was a hate crime meant to intimidate, they said.
The president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Imam Muhammad Musri, told the newspaper that the damage would be quickly repaired — but that members of the mosque were shaken by the crime.
“We’re trying to on one hand calm them down,” Musri told the Sentinel, “and on the other hand give them tips on how to stay safe.”
Police estimated the damage to the mosque at the time as about $800, the Sentinel reports.
The congregation at the Central Florida mosque is small — only about 50 people, according to USA Today — and Musri said that they were relieved to see the vandalism being prosecuted as a hate crime.
“We have been hoping for that to happen,” Musri told USA Today in February, when prosecutors announced they would seek a hate crime enhancement. “It was clearly a hate crime.”
Congregants were glad no one was there when the vandalism occurred.
“Obviously, we were lucky that no one was there that night,” Musri told USA Today. “He had a machete, someone could have been killed.”