ARROYO GRANDE, California (AP) _ The FBI has joined a hate crime investigation after a cross was burned outside the home of a black family in a prosperous, mainly white California coastal community, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
Police were doing extra patrols in the neighborhood and $3,500 in rewards was being offered after an 11-foot (3.35-meter) cross was stolen from a church then burned early Friday in a lot next to the home.
A 19-year-old woman awoke and saw the flaming cross from her bedroom window, police Cmdr. John Hough told the San Luis Obispo Tribune newspaper. Arriving officers found fallen, burning pieces of wood on the ground and doused them with a garden hose.
“Burning crosses, swastikas on synagogue walls, hateful words on mosques doors are not pranks. They are hate crimes meant to frighten and intimidate,” said an email sent to The Tribune by 31 members of the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association.
It was the first reported hate crime since 2002 in Arroyo Grande and shocked the community of 17,000 people.
“We’ve gotten calls offering rewards, people calling and expressing their concern,” Hough said.
FBI agents and investigators from the state Department of Justice and San Luis Obispo County were involved in the arson and hate crime probe. However, no suspects had been identified and few tips were being received.
No one had claimed responsibility and there was no evidence that an organized racist group was at work, Hough said.
The cross was stolen weeks ago from Saint John’s Lutheran Church, Hough said.
The church has received a replacement cross that originally was in another church. Parishioners also planned to send prayer blankets to the mother and daughter who lived in the home.
Police declined to release their names and a call to the house by The Associated Press was not answered.
“We were just in total shock that someone would do something with what is to most people a symbol of peace and love,” church member Dean Limbo told the newspaper.