WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
An Orthodox church in Kamloops, B.C., has been defaced with graffiti referring to unmarked graves near a residential school for Indigenous children.
Kamloops RCMP say they were called to All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church at 1044 Eighth Street shortly after 9 a.m. PT Thursday for a report of unwanted people refusing to leave the property and leaving behind garbage and graffiti.
"If you hurt and/or kill kids, [you] should be burned alive," reads one of the messages painted on the church's exterior wall.
The church's maintenance manager, Harry Kucharuk, says the worship house has been vandalized by people camping near the property for several years, but attacks have been getting worse since the discovery in May of the remains of as many as 215 children near a former residential school in Kamloops.
"We're starting to fear for our lives," Kucharuk told the CBC's Jennifer Chrumka. "They just think they own the place. We've talked to the police — their hands are full."
"What else can we do? And we're all in [our] 70s and 80s, and it's getting a little hard."
B.C. has witnessed a series of attacks on churches of various denominations over the past several months. On July 19, the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey, B.C., was destroyed by a fire that's being treated as suspicious.
Rev. Chad Pawlyshyn, the parish priest of All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church, says vandalism on the religious facility is disheartening and also makes it more challenging for him and his staff to support people living with homelessness.
"When we're being attacked, we have to look after ourselves first, sadly," Pawlyshyn said. "We have, sadly, individuals who grab onto events like this and take an opportunity to make a blanket statement."
Pawlyshyn says his church has been working to rebuild relationships with communities who don't trust religious institutions.
B.C. RCMP say they're still investigating the vandalism on the Orthodox church, and ask anyone who witnessed it to contact the Kamloops RCMP at 250-828-3000, citing file number 2021-27925.
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Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.