Hawzah News Agency (Tennessee, US) - In September, a federal grand jury indicted Thomas Gibbs and Charles Stout III with committing a civil rights violation through damaging and defacing the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro on July 10, 2017.
Gibbs and Stout are scheduled to appear in court later this month.
"I just wanted to say how very, very sorry I am to all of you," said Stout, whose parents and lawyer stood behind him while he spoke to the more than 200 ICM members following the weekly Friday prayer service that focused on the topic of forgiveness.
The two teens were caught on video surveillance placing bacon, a pork product forbidden by Islam, around an entrance and spray-painting graphic messages on the building's exterior.
"I wouldn't want anyone to do that to my church and I can imagine the disappointment and the hurt and the fear I caused. I would never want anyone to feel unwelcome at their place of worship. I hope that you guys can someday forgive me," said Stout, whose voice was shaky as he spoke.
Gibbs told the congregation he let his "young foolishness" lead him to do a "stupid act." He then asked for forgiveness from the congregation.
"From the bottom of my heart I sincerely apologize. I only ask that you could forgive such a dumb, foolish and immature act. I cannot be more sorrowful for what I've done," said Gibbs, who was accompanied by his lawyer. "I thank you for allowing me to come here today to apologize to all of you and wish you peace."
After the service, numerous men in the congregation approached the vandals with open arms and welcoming smiles, which Gibbs said made him "feel better."
John Mack Green, lawyer for the ICM, said he believed Stout and Gibbs were "sincere and heartfelt" in their apologies.
"I know the congregation was very receptive today and the prayer service sermon on forgiveness was intentional ... and I think meaningful for all involved," Green said.
According to a statement issued by the ICM board, Gibbs and Stout have agreed to "take financial responsibility of repairing the physical damage" of the building.
Gibbs and Stout have yet to face trial for the vandalism, but ICM board member and spokesman Saleh Sbenaty said he hopes they "have learned lessons" in the meantime.
After the vandals finished speaking, Dr. Ahmad Abu-Halimah read the statement issued by the board.
"We recognize the Department of Justice will exercise its obligations and responsibilities as these crimes are prosecuted and we are deeply grateful," Abu-Halimah read. "As to the men charged, we will forgive them for their behavior and we will wish for them a better and wiser future."