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Vandalized Newport Beach church looks to community for help on restoring shattered stained-glass windows (LA Times)

April 17, 2023

Those who helped clean up Christ Church by the Sea early Saturday morning recalled later the shocking vision that had awaited them when they arrived: piles and piles of shattered stained glass.

The glass was not only piled on the ground near the hollow window frames but in the pews and pew racks. Some of the shards had flown across the center aisle to the opposite side of the church in a frenzied act of vandalism that had taken place just hours before they assembled.

“There’s anger. There’s sadness. Vandalism is such an unnatural thing to process because we don’t figure that people are going to do that sort of thing,” said Charles Remley, who has attended the United Methodist church since 1949.

Remley was there Saturday morning with his wife, Nancy, to lend a hand after the couple received a call from the Rev. Paul Capetz, a senior pastor at the church. “Natural disasters, where things are damaged, you say, ‘Well, OK.’ Vandalism — that’s a specific impact,” Remley said.

Newport Beach police arrested 27-year-old Nicolas Alexandro Briones on Saturday on suspicion of felony vandalism after they responded to reports from a neighbor at around 2:45 a.m. of a possible incident in the 1400 block of Balboa Boulevard.

Jail records Monday afternoon indicate Briones remained in custody without bail. The San Dimas resident is expected to make his first court appearance on Tuesday in the county’s central jail court.

The extent of the charges filed against him remained unclear as of Monday. He was also arrested in March on suspicion of breaking into the Costa Mesa First United Methodist Church on 19th Street.

According to Capetz, Saturday morning’s act of vandalism caused about $100,000 in damages to the Newport Beach church. With the exception of two stained-glass windows that are positioned considerably out of reach, all of the windows on the side of the church that faces the street were shattered. Those on the side of the structure that faces an alley were left untouched.

Though the windows meant a great deal to his congregation as all of them were donated by members who have since died, Capetz said church members were grateful it wasn’t an incident of gun violence.

“It’s one thing to damage property, it’s another thing to kill human beings,” he said.

That had been one of Craig Davis’ fears when he first heard about the incident.

Davis, the church organist and director of music, said he feared the perpetrator might have been a right-wing extremist, as the Christ Church by the Sea openly embraces the LGBTQ community.

Newport Beach police said they don’t have any evidence of a hate crime.

Davis said the feelings came to him in waves, in the way that grieving can. First, he felt angry, then sad, then just disappointed, as Christ Church by the Sea is his church home. But now the crime is water under the bridge, he said.

“Well, we can’t unbreak the windows. The only thing left is to pray for forgiveness, you know?” Davis said. What struck him was that the damages reminded him of Kristallnacht — a wave of anti-Semitic violence that took place in November 1938 by the Nazi regime, during which synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses and homes were vandalized or destroyed. The name literally translates to “Night of Crystal,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

His wife, Jacqueline Ingels, described the glass almost like snow.

“[Glass] was just everywhere,” she said. “Nancy [Remley] and everyone who came down, we just got about 14 to 15 people and cleaned it up in about three to four hours. But it was just heartbreaking. My daughter was baptized here.”

Nancy Remley, a member of the congregation since the 1960s, said it was a “shock” to hear of the damages. She and her husband live near the church campus, and she described the scene as “devastation” when they arrived to help.

“You just — sigh. ‘Oh, Lord, what are you going to do?’ The problem is you can’t do anything besides that,” Remley said. “My husband gathered trashcans and shovels. I started phoning the other members of the church that I knew that … would be capable of coming down and helping and weren’t too far away.”

Remley said she and her husband were married at Christ Church by the Sea. Their children were born into the church, along with their grandchildren.

“You’re just brokenhearted when you see it, and you just know that we’ve got to fix this,” she said.

Capetz said that beyond the windows’ aesthetic importance, they held deeply personal value, as many were given in memory of loved ones. The windows were spiritual, too, as many of them included religious symbols. Those picking up the pieces said they felt as though someone had destroyed the symbols of what was most sacred to them.

The plan now is to try and replicate the windows as they were, though Capetz and Davis noted they wouldn’t be exactly the same because the artisans who made them also are no longer around.

Services continued on Sunday, as they do every week. Davis said that instead of a sermon that morning, Capetz offered a space for members to volunteer their thoughts and feelings about the incident in a cathartic way. Few, if any, held much resentment for the suspect, Briones, instead offering their wishes for the suspect to get help.

“We’re back to business as normal. The church will go on. The church is not the building. The church is the community,” said Capetz. “The community has a building, and we care about it and we’ll take care of it.”

The church has launched a GoFundMe page to replace the windows, which can be found at As of Monday evening, $5,000 had been raised.