HAVERHILL — Officials are asking for the public’s help in finding the person or persons who stole a statue of the baby Jesus from a church’s Nativity scene on Thursday morning, replacing it with a freshly severed pig’s head.
Speaking at a news conference in Haverhill Friday, Mayor James J. Fiorentini called the crime at Sacred Hearts parish on South Main Street “an outrage.”
“I’m absolutely outraged by this incident, which does have all the elements of a hate crime,” said Fiorentini, a Catholic who once attended Sacred Hearts. “I want to state in the strongest possible way that this does not reflect our community.”
The head was discovered in the creche at about 7:15 a.m. Thursday by the Rev. Ben LeTran as he arrived for Christmas morning Mass, said the Rev. John Delaney, pastor of Sacred Hearts.
Police were called, and the pig’s head was removed. Delaney said he told parishioners who noticed the statue was missing that it had been stolen, then found another baby Jesus statue and put it on display for later Christmas Masses.
Police are investigating whether the incident is a hate crime.
“Certainly, there’s a lot of symbolism with what was done. And it is concerning if it is discovered that this is a hate crime,” Lieutenant Robert P. Pistone, a police spokesman, said.
Pistone said the pig did not appear to have been sold by a butcher, because it still had hair, which a butcher would normally remove. He said the head appeared to have been freshly severed and asked that any local farms or butcher shops with information call the police.
If the animal was killed for the crime, animal cruelty charges could be filed, Pistone said.
Pistone said pig heads had been found a couple of years ago at another local church.
A Haverhill woman brought another statue of the baby Jesus to the church Friday morning to replace the stolen one. Delaney said the offering, on a day of “sadness and hurt,” was a “sign of hope.”
“What a great sign of goodness and friendship from a neighbor,” Delaney said. “Even [amid] the sadness and the depths of this action, that could build bridges, create friendships. We’re all one in this time of great turmoil. We are connected with each other in friendship and love.”
Officials asked anyone with information on the crime to call 978-373-1212.
“Somebody must know about this, and we call upon the public for their assistance,” Fiorentini said. “We will solve this.”
On Saturday, Bishop Robert F. Hennessey, auxiliary bishop for the part of the Archdiocese of Boston that covers the Merrimack Valley, is expected to celebrate the church’s 4 p.m. Mass.
After Mass, Delaney said, Hennessey will lead parishioners in a blessing of the Nativity scene.