The pastor of an Amityville Baptist church said Friday she reported to police a threatening and racist voice mail left Wednesday before a Bible study because she feared for her parishioners.
"I'm not going to take it lightly because of what was happening down South," the Rev. Sallie Lloyd said, referring to the shooting deaths of nine people at a Bible study in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month.
The message on the New Hope Institutional Baptist Church voice mail said "Die [racial epithet] Die," court papers said.StoryCops: Woman left racist message at churchMore coverageReligion on Long Island: Stories, photos, videosDataLI crime stats
New Hope recorded the number on the caller ID and called police, who tracked down and arrested Elisa Pellino on Thursday.
Pellino, 66, of Farmingdale, admitted to leaving the voice mail, police said. She was arraigned Friday in First District Court in Central Islip on second-degree aggravated harassment as a hate crime.
Pellino, who lives with her son, appeared in court handcuffed in a wheelchair, her head shaven.
Her Legal Aid attorney entered a not guilty plea and she was released on $5,000 bond.
Pellino has a conviction in Suffolk for attempted grand larceny dating to 1989, records show.
"I don't believe she said that," her son, Louis Pellino, 41, said after court.
He said his mother is a former clerical worker who is disabled and uses a walker. "She doesn't know these people," he said.
Suffolk police said they increased patrols in the area, including hourly checks. Authorities said they were not aware whether Pellino had a plan to carry out the threat.
Authorities didn't explain what prompted Pellino to allegedly leave the message.
Lloyd said police told her that Pellino said she disliked African-Americans, and randomly selected the church, which has a mixed congregation, from the Internet.
The message had been on the voice mail for about six hours when Lloyd listened to "that ugly thing," she said.
"I never heard anything like that before in my life," said Lloyd, 67, a retired postal employee who started as a parishioner 40 years ago before rising to church leadership.
She added: "I was very afraid because I had my parishioners . . . here studying the word of God."
In Bible study, members prayed for Lloyd, "and then for the people that just don't have the mind to know who God is," said Gladys Washington, 69, a minister.
On Friday, the small 52-year-old church had moved on: A deacon cleaned the pool for an Independence Day baptism. Washington and other ministers walked around pews, praying.
"We forgive them, and we let it go," said Lloyd, of Westbury.