The two teens accused of vandalizing the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro returned to the scene of the crime to apologize.
Hundreds attended the Friday service at the mosque. Charlie Stout and Thomas Gibbs sat in the back and listened to the sermon on forgiveness. After the service had concluded, they addressed the congregation with their lawyers and family members by their side.
“I just wanted to say how very, very sorry I am to all of you,” said Charlie Stout. “I wouldn’t want anyone to do that to my church and I can’t imagine the disappointment and the hurt and fear I caused.”
“I sincerely apologize,” added Thomas Gibbs. “I only ask that you forgive a dumb, foolish and immature act.”
Gibbs said both of them volunteered to come and apologize because it was the right thing to do. Immediately after the apologies, Dr. Ahmad Abu-Halimah read a statement issued by the board at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
In part, he said, “We forgive you. We forgive you for the behavior that was done, and we wish you a better and wiser future.”
Several men in the congregation also approached the teens to shake their hands and thank them for their apology.
“It means a lot for us,” said Saleh Sbenaty, a board member at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “It takes courage for someone to admit his wrongdoing and these men were brave enough to face what they did.”
Last July, the two teens were caught on surveillance video spray painting hate messages on the outside of the building, and placing bacon by the entrance. Pork products are forbidden by Islam. Both men were indicted by a federal grand jury the following September.
Sbenaty said he hoped the prayer service was also a learning experience for the teens. He hoped they walked away with a better understanding of Islam. He said the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro continues community outreach programs to educate the public about their religion.
The center has an open door policy for anyone who wants more information.
“We hope our policy will at least change the minds and hearts of some who have misconceptions of who we are,” said Sbenaty.
Stout and Gibbs are scheduled to appear in federal court in Nashville on March 27. If convicted, both men could face up to a year in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.