The following comes from a March 31 Press Enterprise article by Patrick O’Neill:

A vandal cut down a cross at a Christian retreat center in Riverside, prompting religious leaders to call it a hate crime.

About 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, a neighbor called the Divine Word Retreat Center, near La Sierra and Cypress avenues, wondering if gusting winds and rain the night before had unearthed a 20-foot cross long perched on a hill behind the Catholic-run center.

Geoffrey Buyco, the 39-year-old center manager, hiked up the hill to investigate and found wood chips scattered around the base of a roughly 2-foot stump, he said. The rest of the cross was lying beside it.

“It’s really heartbreaking to go up there and see that cross lying there,” Buyco said. “Just thinking about it is – my whole life it’s been up there.”

Riverside police Lt. Carla Hardin said officers were investigating late Wednesday. No one witnessed the crime and there are no common signs of a hate crime such as graffiti or a note, Hardin said.

A cross has been at the site since the early 1960s, when seminary students lugged the wood up the hill to build it. The current cross was erected in 1975, Buyco said.

Thousands of people make religious retreats at the center. Last week, hundreds hiked the hill to the cross to commemorate Good Friday.

Buyco said the cross-cutting, done sometime Tuesday night or early Wednesday, was a hate crime.

“Obviously there’s a reason for why you’d cut a cross down,” Buyco said. “This is completely out of the blue. It’s such a big thing, it’s going to be tough letting everyone know.”

Employees at the retreat center hope to erect a cross in the same spot as soon as possible.