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Caught On Video: Man Topples Statue Of Virgin Mary Outside Brooklyn Church In Broad Daylight

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Police are on the hunt for a man caught on camera vandalizing a religious statue in Brooklyn.

The statue stood outside Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace on West 17th Street and Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. It was worth $4,000, and now the church has to raise funds to buy a new one.

The statue depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most iconic images of the Virgin Mary, and it is particularly revered by Mexican-Americans.

A second statue in the group outside the Coney Island church depicts St. Juan Diego. Catholics believe his cloak was miraculously impressed with an image of Mary. It is now on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, north of Mexico City.

Parishioners said the vandalism is just another example of the increased disrespect they've been witnessing in their neighborhood.

Surveillance video shows a man in a hat climbing a fence outside Our Lady of Solace and clambering up a religious shrine. He grabs the statue of the Blessed Mother, knocks it over and hurls it onto the sidewalk.

"Who knows mentally what's going on with that person in that moment, but you don't do stuff like that. This is vandalism," said Coney Island resident Sara Marerro.

Religious Statue Vandalized
(credit: Natalie Duddridge/CBS2)

Marerro saw it happen. After the video ends, she said the other man in the video, whose face was blurred, tried to fix the statue, and then the two got into an altercation.

"The other guy came trying to put the statue back. And that's when they started fighting because the other guy, they were drunk," Marerro said.

The Blessed Mother's face and hands were smashed. Now the full statue has to be replaced.

"What does she represent to you?" CBS2's Natalie Duddridge asked.

"My mother," said Maria Perez.

John Quaglione with the Diocese of Brooklyn said people often stand at the shrine to pray, especially last week on Sept. 11, the day it was desecrated.

"To attack the Blessed Mother on 9/11 in broad daylight is not only brazen, it's a direct assault of the people that were walking by that day wanted to have a moment of prayer to themselves, wanted to remember someone they may have lost," Quaglione said.

Police are hoping someone recognizes the suspect, who was wearing a gray cap and a black shirt with the word "Brooklyn" on the front.

Even though the church has been struggling financially due to the pandemic, with donations down, parishioners have rallied to raise the thousands needed to replace the statue.

Anyone with any information is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). You can also submit a tip via their website or on Twitter, @NYPDTips. All calls are kept confidential.

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