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Charges, Hate Crime Investigation Follow Bombing of LGBTQ-Owned Gym

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday September 14, 2020

The front door to Bellum Strength & Conditioning- G City CrossFit, damaged in a bombing on Aug. 26
The front door to Bellum Strength & Conditioning- G City CrossFit, damaged in a bombing on Aug. 26  (Source:Bellum Strength & Conditioning- G City CrossFit / Instagram)

The bombing of a lesbian-owned gym in Gloucester City, NJ, is being investigated as a hate crime, reports area news outlet Goucester City News.

The target was Bellum Strength & Conditioning- G City CrossFit, which is owned by married couple Jenai Gonzales and Ann Panarello.

Drew Reports News recounted that 35-year-old Dwayne A. Vandergrift Jr. placed an explosive device at the gym's door early in the morning of Aug. 26. The detonation damaged the gym's front door, shattering its glass and damaging a Pride flag that had been displayed in the door. No injuries were reported.

Security camera footage recorded Vandergrift making his getaway on an electric scooter, new sources said. The suspect was arrested two days later.

Shore News reports that authorities discovered two more explosive devices at his home, along with an illegal firearm and ammunition, body armor, and 85 marijuana plants.

The owner of LGBTQ athletic apparel company Lifting Culture, Steven Vitale, showed support for the gym, posting about the bombing at his company's website.

Vitale wrote that the gym is a "known safe-haven in the area for LGBTQ youth. The owners themselves, many members, and several coaches are also gay. Yet, this facility is also home to people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender identities."

Bellum Strength & Conditioning- G City CrossFit shared Vitale's comments in an Instagram post.

View this post on Instagram

Dear Culture, ?????????? For us, the LIFT WITH PRIDE line was a choice we made with the intent of sharing the message of equality and acceptance. News has been brought to our attention that this release comes at such a significant time, both globally but also much more on a more personal level. Last week @bellum_gcitycrossfit , a small Crossfit gym in Gloucester, New Jersey owned by Jenai Gonzales and her wife Ann Panarello, was bombed. The FBI and ATF are currently investigating the explosion. Due to the large gay-pride flag hanging on the door where the bomb was placed and other factors, this crime is being investigated as a hate crime. G-City Crossfit had, and will continue to have, a large gay-pride flag displayed prominently in their front door. They are a known safe-haven in the area for LGBTQ youth. The owners themselves, many members, and several coaches are also gay. Yet, this facility is also home to people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender identities. Their small establishment perfectly exemplifies everything we all love about Crossfit - community, acceptance, and respect for all. They provide an exceptional youth program, promote health and wellness within their community, and are forever welcoming to anyone that walks into their doors. The world is in a state of what feels like constant turmoil, but for a period of time we believed there was more overall acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Clearly, there is still hate and misunderstanding. Originally we chose the "It Gets Better Project" as our place of donation, however, we will now be sharing half of those proceeds with G-City CrossFit to help pay for the damages done to their gym. Our LIFT WITH PRIDE collection is now live. Please share this with your gym and community so that we can help share the message of equality and acceptance that we strive for each and every day. Sincerely, The team at Lifting Culture #lgbtq

A post shared by LiftingCulture.LLC (@liftingcultureapparel) on

The post included a photo gallery of the damage done to the gym. The door is boarded over in the photos, but the flag is visible, having been re-hung in the gym's front window.

Vandergrift faces charges of "malicious use of explosives, unlawful possession of two destructive devices, and unlawful possession of a short-barreled rifle," reported Shore News.

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.

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