Miami University students charged with felony for vandalizing Hillel sukkah

This afternoon, the Oxford, Ohio Police Department released a statement that it has charged three Miami University students — Santiago Arenas, 19; Kevin J. Ladriere, 20; and Eli W. Lauger, 20 — with vandalism, a felony, for overturning MU Hillel’s sukkah on Oct. 15. The statement added that Oxford police determined the crime was perpetrated without religious bias.

“During our investigation, it was determined that there was no religious bias involved with the commission of the crime,” the statement read. “This incident underscores the unintended consequences that may result from senseless property damage and the real effects on the feelings of safety and security when someone trespasses onto the property of another. While the suspects in this case did not understand that they were damaging a religious symbol, the effects were felt by the Jewish community.”

On Oct. 21, the Hillel at Miami University in Oxford released security camera video of three young men intentionally overturning its sukkah just before 2 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15. Hours after MU Hillel distributed the security video via email and social media, three young men came forward and admitted to perpetrating the act.

According to MU Hillel Executive Director Whitney Fisch, the three young men jumped the Hillel building’s fence Oct. 15. She said in the email and on the social media posts with the security video that the Oxford Police Department was reviewing the video to identify the perpetrators.

“What has shaken our students and staff to the core and left me with a pit at the bottom of my stomach is the complete violation of our property, and of our sacred space,” Fisch added in the Oct. 21 email.

The seven-day Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot commemorates the huts the ancient Israelites lived in during their 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised Land. Jewish households and institutions erect sukkahs — temporary huts — and eat meals in them over the festival. Oct. 15, also Shabbat, marked the sixth day of Sukkot.

According to MU Hillel, approximately 1,000 Jewish students attend the university.

Fisch sent the Oct. 21 email announcing the vandalism along with the security video as MU Hillel was getting ready for its Family Weekend Shabbat.

“I find comfort in knowing that the pride our Hillel at Miami community feels for its Jewishness cannot and will not be broken.”

Minutes before the Family Weekend Shabbat began Friday night with 50 students and their families, “three young men admitted to being the three individuals from our security footage who desecrated our sukkah,” Fisch wrote in a follow-up email to the MU Hillel community on Oct. 24.

Miami University President Gregory P. Crawford, Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Cristina Alcalde, and Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix emailed a statement to the Miami University community on the afternoon of Oct. 21 that the university “does not tolerate acts of vandalism, violence, or hate.”

“Many Miami community members, particularly Jewish community members, may be understandably distressed and feel unsafe after learning about this incident,” the statement continued. “We are committed to every Jewish student, faculty, and staff feeling welcome and included as part of the Miami community. As a university, Miami is committed to a safe environment for all students, faculty, and staff regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background. We condemn the vandalism and desecration of the Sukkah, and all acts of vandalism and hate.”

Hours after the Oxford Police Department posted the names of the students charged with vandalizing the sukkah, Miami University released a statement that it is “deeply troubled and saddened,” that “we empathize with the Jewish community at the distress the incident caused,” and that “We do hope that OPD’s actions today bring a level of peace and that the healing process can begin.” 

The statement also said, “Although the names of the students involved have been released by the police department, Miami cannot share information regarding any on-going campus investigations or disciplinary actions underway due to the privacy protections of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”

A spokesperson for the university did confirm that the three men charged with vandalism are still currently students at Miami University.

Hillel and MU’s Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion will co-host a Shabbat of Love and Honor at Hillel at Miami on Friday, Oct. 28, 6-8 p.m. and invited the Miami community to attend.

To view the security footage of the MU Hillel sukkah being overturned, click here.

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