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Suspect arrested after setting synagogue sign on fire in Chico, Calif.

Thomas Bona, 36, will be charged with hate crimes, arson and vandalism.

A defaced sign at the Beth Israel synagogue in Chico, California on Nov. 3, 2022. Source: Twitter
A defaced sign at the Beth Israel synagogue in Chico, California on Nov. 3, 2022. Source: Twitter

A 36-year-old man has been arrested in Chico, Calif. for arson and hate crimes after he set a synagogue sign on fire last week and vandalized a mural dedicated to missing and murdered indigenous women.

According to the Chico Police Department, they received a call on Nov. 2 “regarding a vandalism incident at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue. … Officers arrived on scene and discovered that an unidentified suspect(s) burned a sign in front of the synagogue and drew swastikas on the sign. Officers collected evidence and began an investigation.”

Police said they were treating the vandalism as a hate crime, calling the incidents “serious acts against members of our community” that “will be investigated thoroughly.”

The next day, the artist behind a mural intended to raise awareness about the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women in the region, called police to say that someone “drew swastikas and obscene language on the mural and attempted to light the bottom on fire,” according to a statement by the Chico Police.

The Chico Police arrested the suspect, Thomas Bona, 36, after receiving complaints about his behavior at California State University-Chico. Bona is not a student, but was inside a school building when police were called to the scene. 

After encountering Bona, a patrol officer and investigators from the Department’s Violence Suppression Unit “obtained evidence and statements providing probable cause for his arrest for both hate-crime incidents,” said a police statement. “Bona was arrested and booked into the Butte County Jail with a request for charges of hate crimes, arson, vandalism and a violation of the terms of post-release community supervision.”  

In a pre-Shabbat Facebook Live post, the Beth Israel synagogue’s spiritual leader, Lisa Rappaport, said the incident is “rattling, disturbing, it’s despicable.” 

However, she said, “what has come from this, the amount of love and support that has come from this from all angles” both Jewish and non-Jewish, shows that “an act of evil and hatred can unleash a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold acts of love and kindness and support.”

Rappaport added, “We will emerge from Shabbat fortified to continue the work of standing in solidarity with all of our neighbors … and all people and all communities vulnerable to hate in this world.”

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