Temple theft investigated as hate crime

by Michelle Park, The Arizona Republic, July 31, 2006

West Valley, Arizona (USA) -- The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is investigating the recent burglary at a Buddhist temple in Chandler as a possible hate crime.

The incident occurred just two weeks before the 15th anniversary of a mass murder at a West Valley Buddhist temple.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the Tzu Chi Foundation on West Elliot Road was robbed of electronic equipment valued at about $40,000 Thursday night or Friday morning. A boom box, two projectors, three computers and a 42-inch television were stolen. A broken Buddha statue also was found.

That is a large part of why the Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident as a hate crime, Arpaio said.

Arpaio said he found the timing of the burglary "interesting" because it occurred only 14 days before the anniversary of the massacre at Wat Promkunaram, a Buddhist temple west of Phoenix. Nine people - six monks, a nun, a temple worker and a monk in training - were shot to death there in 1991.

Two Avondale high school students were convicted of murder and other crimes, and each was sentenced in 1993 to nearly 300 years in prison.

Frances Lin, director of the Tzu Chi Foundation, said she does not believe the burglary at her East Valley temple to be a hate crime.

She believes the Buddha statue was dropped accidentally as the perpetrator or perpetrators tried to access a safe in the same room.

"Someone needed money," she said.

Lin said she is most worried about the lost computers because the foundation kept personal information on them, including names and Social Security numbers of the families it served.

Mesa resident John Puffenbarger, 42, who has received food from the foundation, was frustrated by the burglary.

"They help out a lot of people in this community, and they're getting robbed like that?" he said. "That steals from the whole community."