Forum to discuss hate crimes planned at Arroyo Grande church

A community forum will be held Monday in response to the cross-burning incident that happened outside the home of a 19-year-old black woman and her family in mid-March.

Organized by the Santa Maria/Lompoc NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League’s Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties Office, the event will feature several panelists who will focus on preventing and responding to hate crimes as well as how to move forward.

The forum will be held at 6 p.m. at Saint John’s Lutheran Church, 959 Valley Road in Arroyo Grande.

Police are investigating the cross burning as an arson and hate crime. It was discovered about 12:30 a.m. March 18 when police and firefighters responded to a report of a fire. They found the remnants of a burning cross, which had been stuck in the ground outside the teen’s window.

Randy Ouimette, the pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church, soon identified the cross as an 11-foot-tall cross belonging to the church. It had been stolen sometime between Feb. 5 and March 5.

Police are working with the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and the state Justice Department. In addition, two rewards totaling $3,500 have been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in the arson and hate crime, and a fund, called “Justice for All in Arroyo Grande,” has been established.

Donations to that fund can be mailed or dropped off to the city at 300 E. Branch St., Arroyo Grande, CA 93420.

Anyone with information can contact the city police department at 473-5100. Crime Stoppers can be contacted at 549-7867; by texting “SLOTIPS” plus a message to 274637; or by submitting a tip at http://sanluisobispocounty.crimestoppersweb.com.