News » Crime

Watch: Suspect In Church's Multiple LGBTQ Flag Thefts Charged with Hate Crime

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Nov 9, 2018
Ronald Tyler Witt
Ronald Tyler Witt  (Source:Suffolk County Police)

A man accused of stealing rainbow flags from a Long Island church half a dozen times now faces hate crime charges for the alleged repeated thefts, local news channel and CBC affiliate reports.

Ronald Tyler Witt, 21, was arrested after the frustrated pastor of Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ, the Rev. Ray Bangulolo, finally called in the police to investigate the repeated disappearances of the flags.

"At first I thought it had just been blown off or maybe somebody was messing with it, but then it started happening on a regular basis," Rev. Banguolo, who is openly gay, told WABC. But after the first flag disappeared in July, other flags also went missing from the lawn in front of the church — always just the rainbow flags, though, never the American flag or the prisoner of war flag that also flies in front of the building. The thefts went on for months, media reports said.

Before resorting to the authorities, though, Banguolo tried a different approach. After the first two incidents, he put up a sign saying, "You destroyed our welcoming Rainbow Flag twice. It WAS an act of fear. It IS an act of hate."

The sign invited, "Instead of doing it again, talk with us. We will talk with you. You, too, are welcome here."

But the flags kept on vanishing. Finally, after the fourth flag went missing, Banguolo called the police. Their hate crimes unit set up surveillance cameras, and eventually, a suspect, Witt, was nabbed.

Witt's arrest took place at the young man's home on Oct. 6, ABC News reported.

"Amazon has me on speed order for rainbow flags," the reverend told ABC News, saying he persisted in replacing the flags because, in his view, "you can't let people stop" the church's message of welcome and affirmation.

According to reports, Witt admitted to the thefts, telling the authorities he "didn't want to see a gay flag on a church."

Rev. Banguolo spoke compassionately about Witt but said that he must be held accountable.

"This 21-year-old person who's in a heap of trouble and at least at this point is accused of hate crimes, that's a horrible thing," the reverend told the media. "I feel for him, I feel for his family."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook