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San Carlos minister uses divine inspiration, cameras to track anti-LGBTQ vandals – San Francisco Chronicle


A leader of a San Carlos church that has been the repeated target of anti-LGBTQ vandalism may have solved the case using a little old-fashioned legwork, some divine inspiration and a newfangled video camera.

“I think we’ve got ’em,” said the Rev. Alan Gates, senior associate rector of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany.

Gates was fed up after vandals struck the church’s sculpture display last weekend for the second time in a year. On Saturday night, the culprits ripped apart a rainbow-colored heart that parishioners had fabricated to commemorate Pride Week. Last year, vandals uprooted a set of rainbow-colored freestanding doors. Fragments from both sculptures were found in a nearby creek.

When Gates installed the wooden heart, it said “LOVE WINS.” After the vandals pulled off the left half, it read “VE INS.”

Gates’ response: “Here we go again.”

The Rev. Alan Gates examines the damaged rainbow heart sign in front of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos.

After last year’s vandalism, the church installed a high-tech security camera at the front of the church. It was this camera that captured footage of a blue sport utility vehicle pulling up in front of the church on Arroyo Avenue. The video showed one of the vehicle’s four occupants get out, rip off a piece of the sign, and get back in the SUV before it sped off.

Gates studied the footage and thought it over. The Almighty had him install the camera for a reason, he said. He was determined to do something, and his wife, Bernadette, was even more determined. On Sunday, the two of them got in their car and began driving around San Carlos, looking for blue SUVs.

Sundays are a day doing for the Lord’s work, Gates figured, and because the pandemic had shut the church doors and moved services online, he just happened to have a little extra time on his hands.

They spotted a blue SUV, but it didn’t have the body damage. They spotted another, but it didn’t have the stripes. Finally, parked on a street about 10 blocks from the church, they spotted a vehicle that matched the footage.

Gates reported the vandalism and his findings to San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies, who provide police services in San Carlos. Gates said the deputies investigated and told him they couldn’t be positive he had cracked the case.

“But they vaguely suggested it was the vehicle involved, and they said they followed up with an individual,” Gates said.

A San Mateo County sheriff’s spokeswoman confirmed that deputies are “definitely looking into” Gates’ finding.

“We don’t want to say for sure that’s the car,” said Lt. Stephanie Josephson.

Meanwhile, Gates, who has been with the church for nine years, fished the missing chunk of the rainbow heart out of the creek and is keeping it in a church office for now.

Last year, the 45-year-old clergyman immediately put the recovered doors back in the church’s front garden. This time, he’s waiting to do repairs — even though carpentry is something of a Christian tradition. The damaged sign has a story to tell, too.

“Our message is one of inclusiveness,” Gates said. “That’s who we are. I don’t know why kindness, compassion and love is threatening to some. I can’t for the life of me figure it out.”

Parishioner Tassie Towry-Jenkins dropped by the church to look at the damage and couldn’t help but shake her head.

“It’s so upsetting,” Towry-Jenkins said. “Just when you think you’re in the bubble of the progressive, liberal Bay Area.”

Gates said he hopes his sleuthing days are behind him.

“I have no plans to continue as a detective,” he said. “I just want to go back to doing what I do.”

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: srubenstein@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SteveRubeSF





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