Vandal topples 15-foot crucifix, tears down art as churchgoers pray, California cops say

A woman faces felony vandalism charges after police said she was caught on video Wednesday tearing down a crucifix at a Northern California church.

But the church was just one stop on the crime spree Jackeline Chavira, 23, is accused of committing in Watsonville on Wednesday: Police said in a news release Thursday that Chavira first stole roses from a store on Main Street, went to nearby shop to steal (and purposely break) a religious statue, and then took a soda from a bakery before heading to St. Patrick’s Church.

That’s where surveillance footage caught a woman walking into the sanctuary at 12:15 p.m., and heading straight for the altar, where she appraised the 15-foot tall crucifix before ultimately toppling it, video shows.

After the crucifix fell, footage shows the woman running back down the aisle of the church and leaving the sanctuary. She appears to still be holding the stolen roses.

From the sanctuary, Chavira headed to the church’s prayer room, where she threw a religious statue on the ground and tore down two large religious artworks as two church-goers prayed in the room, according to police.

Jackeline Chavira, 23, is accused of committing a crime spree in Watsonville on Wednesday. Santa Cruz County Jail

Chavira left the church and went to a shop selling religious goods, where she tried stealing yet another statue, police said.

But that attempt led to an argument with a worker, and Chavira soon threw down the statue and broke it, police said. Chavira was arrested about two hours after that crime, which police listed as the last one in a timeline of the crime spree. The spree began at 11:40 a.m., police said.

Chavira is being held on $25,000 bail at a Santa Cruz County jail on charges of defacing property, vandalizing a place of worship, disobeying a court order and burglary, according to online jail records.

The Watsonville Police Department shared video of the crucifix toppling on Facebook, where it was viewed 18,000 times within just hours. It has been shared more than 500 times as of Thursday evening.

“So sad that a sacred place where you go to worship and have quiet prayer will now more than likely be closed during the day,” one commenter wrote. “Rotten choices other people have made, ruins it for us all.”

Police said there was $15,000 in damage at the church alone, adding that the damage there was “the most extensive.”

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.