MOORHEAD — Police say a Walmart loss prevention officer's independent investigation led them to a 22-year-old man now suspected of spray painting racist and anti-Islam graffiti on a Moorhead mosque over the weekend.
After hearing the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center had been vandalized, the employee decided to review security camera footage from area Walmart stores to see if anyone buying spray paint matched an image shared by police, according to Moorhead Police Capt. Deric Swenson.
The employee, who has chosen to remain unnamed for now, did not find anyone matching the suspect in video from the Dilworth Walmart, but found a match in video from the Walmart on 13th Avenue in Fargo, Swenson said. A person in the Walmart video was wearing a coat similar to the one seen in the security video from the mosque.
The employee told police about the match, which led investigators to Benjamin Enderle, who was booked into the Clay County Jail after being taken into custody in south Moorhead Tuesday night, April 27.
Swenson said the employee's tip helped "turn the tables" in the investigation.
Investigators are recommending felony charges of harassment and criminal damage to property. The recommended charges are enhanced due to "hate-related acts," Swenson said.
Reports have been forwarded to the Clay County Attorney's Office, where the final charges will be determined and then filed.
Swenson said police aren't looking for any other suspects.
It was a fairly quick arrest in the case as officers were called to the mosque Sunday morning, April 25, where they found phrases such as “Death to Islam” and women "can’t vote," along with racial slurs spray-painted on the building. The vandalism likely occurred late Saturday night or early Sunday.
Cani Adan, chairperson for the Moorhead Human Rights Commission, said that the law will prosecute the suspect how it sees fit, but he believes forgiveness is the right way forward.
“This feels happy. When a lot of people in the community showed up we already felt happy and at home, but for the work the Moorhead Police Department this makes us feel happy to catch the guy in a very quick time. This makes a lot of happiness,” Adan said.
“When it comes to the charges, we really don’t judge people and the ignorance in people,” Adan said. “We are not going to judge the guy, he’s a young guy 22 years old. We want him to see that we are better than him and a part of the community.”
In a release in the case, police said they "appreciated the interest and compassion shown by local citizens, media and the community as a whole in solving this crime."
The compassion came through on Monday when nearly 400 people came to help the Islamic Center clean up.
So many people showed up with cleaning supplies, including pressure washers, chemicals and scrub brushes, that many had to wait on the sidelines for a chance to help. The vandalism was taken care of in less than two hours
The Islamic Center so far has raised more than $62,724 through a GoFundMe page to help pay off debt on the building and make building improvements, including security.
The issue has drawn regional and national attention.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said in a statement on Wednesday that they "welcome the arrest in this troubling case, thank the investigators involved, and hope the swift apprehension of the alleged perpetrator sends a strong message to others who would contemplate engaging in bias-motivated crimes."
He called on state lawmakers to pass a bill updating Minnesota's hate-crime legislation.
Reporter C.S. Hagen contributed to this report