Cross-burning incident in Arroyo Grande is investigated as hate crime

Victim, who is black, alerts mom to danger and calls 911; possible hate crime investigated

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMarch 18, 2011 

A burning cross stuck in the ground outside the bedroom window of a black Arroyo Grande teen Friday is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

The teen, who was in the home with her sleeping mom, was confronted just after midnight by the blazing 11-foot cross after she heard a banging noise outside and looked out her window. She woke her mom, who told her to call 911.

“I think this is a hate crime,” said her mother, who cried while talking about the incident. “I’m scared, and my daughter is traumatized.”

The Tribune is not identifying the mother or the daughter to protect them. Scorched grass and a hole in the ground were all that remained Friday evening at the scene. Arroyo Grande police say that while they are not sure if the incident is a hate crime, they are investigating it as such.

Neighbors who witnessed the burning cross said it burned hot and fast.

Police began investigating the incident early Friday, Cmdr. Chuck Gerhart said.

“It could be a prank,” he said. “There are a lot of things that it could be right at this point.” The mother, who had her daughter leave town Friday to protect her, said she believes the incident to be more than a prank.

“This is the 21st century and this is Ku Klux Klan stuff and there is no place for this anywhere,” she said.

Arroyo Grande Police Chief Steve Annibali said that no one at the department could remember a cross burning in the city.

He visited with the family after the incident and gave them his cell phone number.

Mayor Tony Ferrara was hesitant to discuss the incident and expressed concern that it not be portrayed as a hate crime until more information was available from the police investigation. “We don’t know for certain if that is what it is,” Ferrara said. “We are still investigating it.”

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that people realize this is a very unusual circumstance in our community and make sure the victims know that we are doing everything we can to determine what caused this and how to bring justice to the situation,” City Manager Steve Adams said.

Police are also investigating the theft of a cross from Saint John’s Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande earlier this month.

Annibali said it was not yet known if the cross burned Friday morning was the same one.

The mother has asked that anyone who saw anything or knows anything about the incident call the police.

Reporters Cynthia Lambert and Nick Wilson contributed to this story.

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