Accused Haverhill Church Vandal Needs Help, Not Hate

by Bill Brenner on January 15, 2015

Over the holidays, there was much outrage over the news that someone stole the Baby Jesus figure from a Nativity scene at Sacred Hearts Parish in Haverhill, leaving a severed pig’s head in its place.

I was among those offended and troubled. It happened on Christmas morning and had all the hallmarks of a hateful act. A lot of people speculated that it was a hate crime. My guess at the time was that it was the work of one or more young punks who needed to be taught a hard lesson.

Yesterday, we learned more about what may have happened.

Mood music:

According to The Eagle-Tribune, police have charged 54-year-old Amarellis Ceremeno — a homeless woman — with the Sacred Hearts vandalism, as well as with the desecration of Iglesia Biblica Bautista (Bible Baptist Church), where she allegedly wrote “666” on the church multiple times.

The anger I felt has been replaced by feelings of pity. The woman reportedly suffers from serious mental illness, and police said she has an obsession with religion.

Early speculation was that someone had butchered a pig specifically so they could leave its head in the Nativity scene. But police told the newspaper that the pig’s head was probably discarded by someone who had cooked a pig for Christmas Eve. Police were reportedly informed that it’s customary for some in the Latino community to roast pigs on Christmas Eve and that Ceremeno may have found the pig’s head in the trash early Christmas Day.

This is a sad story from start to finish.

Fortunately, it looks like police and political leaders are doing their best to withhold judgement. I think we should do the same.

Mayor James Fiorentini told WCVB Channel 5 that the incident illustrates the need for better mental health assistance for homeless residents.

“I know this lady personally, as I’ve indicated to the press before. She’s a frequenter of the mayor’s office, and we hope she gets the help that she needs,” he said.

Mental illness drives people to dark places. I’m proof of that. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with plenty of help along the way.

May it be the same for Ceremeno.

Amarellis Ceremeno by Paul Bilodeau

Amarellis Ceremeno, 54, of Haverhill, whom police list as homeless, at her appearance in Haverhill District Court last month. Photo by Paul Bilodeau/The Eagle-Tribune

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Corthell January 15, 2015 at 7:53 am

This is still a hate crime. Mental illness may have lead her to this action, however the underlying hate is in this person’s makeup for what ever reason. We as a society have failed people with mental illness by provided drugs and releasing patients back out into the life’s arena without the help they need.
We need to develop safe and productive mental institutions to treat and care for people. The days of the Bridgewater and Danvers State Hospitals is over. People like Amarellis Ceremeno need to be institutionalized and treated until they are able to function normally in society.
Mayor Fiorentini admits that Ceremeno was a frequenter to his office. He nor his staff never notice anything out of the ordinary? Are we too PC to see the need to have this women placed in an institution that could have helped her before she desecrated two churches? One last question, What would have been the out come if she had painted swastikas on a Jewish temple or desecrated a Muslim Mosque? Please do not misunderstand I do not wish ill to this women as it is clear she needs help and should receive it.

Jone January 15, 2015 at 11:37 am

mood music: Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side – old folk song sung by june carter cash.

Carol January 15, 2015 at 8:54 pm

As you no doubt know, mentally ill persons have episodes in which they cannot distinguish between reality and hallucinations. Unfortunately, the most severe hallucinations often are filled with extreme religious, racial, gender, sexuality, authority figure, or political hatred.

Meds, rehab, and support groups are critical. IF the patient does NOT take meds or if the meds are not adjusted every year, then we have a societal problem.

I have a cousin with this affliction. He is a productive member of society, working at a grocery store, and has been voted employee of the month many times. He lives in a halfway house. He has a loving family that helps him every day. He does NOT need to institutionalized. Yet, there are episodes…

The homeless who have this kind of affliction don’t have this support system. They fall between the cracks.

Not sure how a mayor of any city has the authority to check someone into an institution. Pretty sure there are laws against a mayor deciding on his or her own to check a visitor into an institution. Otherwise, the Haverhill Mayor might have come after me with a net when I disagreed with a policy of his!

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