Four teenage girls have made restitution for vandalizing a Chanukah decoration outside a Germantown home last December.
The four, two of whom were minors at the time of the incident, each agreed to write a letter of apology to homeowners Ellen and Nelson Robin and make a charitable contribution rather than face a civil suit.
“I think we’re giving them a gift,” Ellen Robin said of the settlement. “I hope that they and their parents see it that way.”
The Robins received the apologies last week after Montgomery County Police told them all of the charitable donations had been turned in. The family requested the donations be made to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “The case is resolved,” Robin wrote on Facebook on Oct. 7.
“I am very sorry that we acted so immaturely,” one of the apologies read. “We now understand how important the menorah was to your family and are ashamed that we thought of the act as just a prank.”
“It was a bad joke gone worse,” another read.
“We never intended to offend or attack your family or your faith,” read a third. “I hope you find peace through this and with our donation.”
The family’s five-foot tall lawn menorah was made of PVC tubing and had light displays determined by a programmed chip inside. It was stolen on Christmas Eve 2013 and turned up broken the next day on a front lawn about two miles away. With it was a letter and cash.
(The Maryland State’s Attorney’s office, which mediated the settlement, has not released the contents of that letter or the amount of cash that accompanied it.)
By then, the Robins had called the police, who investigated the vandalism as a hate incident.
According to Montgomery County Police, “up to eight girls got involved in removing seasonal decorations. There were maybe a half-dozen victims,” most of them homeowners with Christmas ornaments, said spokesman Paul Starks.
The Robins had also alerted the media. Ellen Robin thinks the news coverage got the vandals’ attention. “When they heard the possibility of it being a hate crime, they freaked out,” she said. This led to the letter and cash that accompanied the returned menorah, she believes.
Police had no leads until one of the girls had her fingerprints taken as part of a job application. Her prints matched those taken by police from the damaged menorah. When police contacted the girl, she identified the three others.
With the vandals identified, “the police said, ‘What do you want to do?’” Robin said. “We said, ‘There has to be some consequence.’” So the Robins set a restitution figure, asked for written apologies and made their request unconditional. Each girl donated $427.50, a total of $1,710, according to State’s Attorney spokesman Ramon Korionoff. He said his office is withholding the names of the girls because there was no formal charge against them.
Although the vandalism was more a prank than an act against Jews and Christians, Starks is satisfied that the police were correct in investigating it as a hate incident. “A hate crime [can even be] a low-level theft or vandalism,” he said. The designation is based on if the victim thinks it was a hate crime.
Robin does. “We felt violated,” she said.
Starks said wrapping up the case was a matter of both police work and luck.
“It’s sort of remarkable that an officer obtained a [clear] print from the scene” and was able to match it with the finger prints on the job application. “That’s the way it’s supposed to happen but it doesn’t always.”