Five teens were arrested and charged after a shot was fired outside of an Orleans County mosque Monday night as worshipers were leaving nightly Ramadan services.
YNN spoke with members of the World Sufi Foundation Mosque in Waterport as well as law enforcement officials to learn more about what happened.
“I’m just grateful that things weren’t worse last night, which they easily could’ve been,” said David Bell of the World Sufi Foundation Mosque.
Members of the mosque in Waterport said they have been harassed since they were first founded in 1974. They said they have experienced everything from people speeding by and shouting vulgar language to having their fence torn out and burned down.
Still, they said nothing compares to what happened Monday after nightly prayer services.
“As we were standing here, the one car came back and instead of speeding by that car swerved directly into our group of people. It clipped me,” Bell said. "I fell to the ground and what’s even more difficult is what happened after. There was a group of people and a shot was fired before the car sped away.”
“This is actually the first time that someone’s actually been physically injured and that's a concern for us. Imagine coming out after a service, particularly a holy service, coming out and seeing someone flipped by a car obviously we’re going to feel threatened by it, we’re going to feel insecure about it and we’re gonna wonder where is our protection and where are our rights,” said Bilal Huzair of the World Sufi Foundation Mosque.
Huzair said members of the mosque immediately called 911 to report the incident.
He said another member, who was late to prayer service, spotted the black SUV and white truck parked down the road at the Lake Alice Public Boat Launch. He said the member recognized the vehicles as the ones that were allegedly involved in a separate harassing incident just a few days earlier.
Huzair said once David Bell was taken to the hospital for treatment, he and other members of the mosque drove to the boat launch and used their cars to surround the two vehicles full of teens until police arrived.
Huzair claims it took more than 40 minutes for police to arrive and that police only came after the teens called 911 to say they were being harassed.
“I think there’s some miscommunication as to what agencies can respond and where they respond. There was more than one law enforcement agency involved in this. We did have local Albion police and state police assisting the sheriff’s office on both incidents,” said Orleans County Sheriff Scott Hess.
"Whether or not it was properly responded to initially is something we’ll be looking at, but I can tell you on behalf of this county, this is something that we’re taking extremely serious and will be properly addressed to be sure there will be no further escalation of what’s already occurred and the harassment that they’ve been subject to,” said Joseph Cardone, Orleans County district attorney.
Investigators charged Mark Vendetti, 17; Tim Weader, 17; Dylan Phillips, 18; Jeff Donahue, 18; and Anthony Ogden, 18, with misdemeanor disruption of religious services.
Vendetti is also charged with felony criminal possession of a weapon for allegedly shooting a 16-gauge shotgun in front of the mosque where people were leaving. He was arraigned and sent to the Orleans County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail.
Authorities said all five teens are buddies from Holley.
No charges have been filed related to Bell's injury, though the district attorney said more charges are possible. Four of the teens are scheduled to appear in Carlton Town Court on September 6.
“I’m hopeful that something can begin to change,” Bell added.
Later in the day on Tuesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for appropriate hate crime charges to be brought against the five Orleans County teenagers.
"New York Muslims must be free to practice their faith without fear of harassment or intimidation," said Faiza N. Ali, community affairs director of CAIR's New York chapter.
People who live near the mosque are reacting to the arrests. Opinion seems to be mixed on whether the incidents are related to religion.
"Just kids being renegade kids, you know there's renegade kids out there. So anyway nobody got shot I guess. Kid probably went by and blew a shot out of the window," said Phil Coville of Albion.
"You don't do pranks with loaded weapons. It's unfortunate. Kids, I don't know how old they are, but they have a way of wrecking their own youth with rash acts And i hope somebody will put the brakes on these guys," said Patricia Smith of Ontario.
"They were wrong because you don't go interrupt somebody's thing and go shoot off a gun, that's not right, that's not right. They should think first with their actions, not try to hurt somebody," said Deborah Rebar of Albion.
People that YNN spoke with said they know very little about the mosque itself.
YNN contacted Carlton Town Supervisor Gayle Ashbery, who declined comment for our report.
*Photos courtesy of Idris Salih
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