SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Church and NAACP leaders spoke to the Springfield community Friday morning after revealing Springfield Police were investigating vandalism at Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church as a hate crime.

“We are making no space, zero space for acts of violence and terror,” said Pastor Tracey Wolff. “I want to be clear that this is not simply tagging. This is not graffiti. This is not vandalism. This was a hate crime and it is unacceptable.”

On May 18 or 19, someone spray-painted a black swastika on the south side of the building. Springfield’s Mayor released a statement denouncing the defacing of the church.

During a news conference Friday morning, Pastor Wolff thanked members of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board for helping to clean up the vandalism. She also thanked Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams and the department’s officers for investigating the crime, and Jordan Valley for keeping an eye on the property.

“We can and we should be tired of these acts of violence,” Wolff said as she wrapped up her address. “There’s been enough of that in Springfield historically, recently, in recent years and we all know it. We can and should be angry about what has taken place here at Pitts Chapel. I pray that this be a righteous anger that propels us forward. I pray that this be a holy anger that helps us stand firm.”

Kai Sutton, the President of the Springfield NAACP, also spoke at Friday’s news conference, recalling recent events of vandalism and hate crimes, including the racial slurs and profanity spray-painted at the Bartley-Decatur Community Center in 2021.

“This traumatic act not only reminds us of how much work we have ahead of us but it is also triggering,” said Sutton. “Whoever is causing this, we hope you know, as a community, we’re going to continue to bounce back and we’re gonna continue to stand united.”

A member of Pitts Chapel told OzarksFirst there are no cameras that captured what happened, but Pastor Wolff said that church leaders are working to improve security and are working with Springfield Police to do so.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams attended the news conference but said he could not release any information about the investigation since it is an open case.

“I would just make one plea, if anybody anywhere saw anything, knows anything, please come forward,” said Chief Williams. Anyone with information can call the police at 417-864-1810 or call Crime Stoppers at 417-869-TIPS. Williams said witnesses is one thing lacking in the investigation.

Pitts Chapel was started in 1847 and is the oldest historically African American church that has continued to worship in Springfield. A major renovation project to improve the building began in 2019.