A rock wrapped with a threatening note containing anti-gay slurs was thrown through the window of a home on Alvin Drive Saturday night. Then, Sunday morning, the house was burned.
Christopher Staples, the 43-year-old victim, is gay.
Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Shane Taylor said investigators were called to the house at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. There they found Staples, who lived in his parent’s converted pool house at the address. He said he had heard a loud noise and then found the rock and note.
“Our investigators recovered the evidence and began the process of developing suspects,” Taylor said. However, because of the nature of the investigation, Taylor said it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about the specifics of the note.
“Then at 5:50 a.m. Sunday, we were called again with the residence on fire,” Taylor said. “In my time here, I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
Details of the investigation are being kept close to the vest, and while Taylor wouldn’t openly say that this was considered a hate crime, the FBI’s involvement suggests a heightened level of activity.
Staples’ mother, Wanda Morris, said the note read “we know you are gay,” and was laced with anti-gay slurs too graphic for print and made the threat that Staples would “burn in hell.”
“We have lived here for 31 years and have never had any trouble,” Morris said. “I mean, everyone knows him, and he doesn’t bother a soul. I just don’t understand. He’s a good person and everyone who knows him calls him ‘Brother.’
“He’s disabled and has been very sick. He hardly ever leaves the house, so I just don’t understand this kind of hate towards someone they obviously don’t even know. But the note read like someone just found out that Chris was gay and was the most hateful, sickening thing I have ever read. If the words weren’t enough – this? He could have been killed.”
Staples was able to escape the fire without physical injury. However, distraught by the ordeal and still in fear for his safety, Morris said Staples is staying with friends in an undisclosed location.
The Carrollton Fire Department is handling the arson investigation along with Carroll County investigators. There is a reward for up to $10,000 offered by the state for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for this act.
“We do know that the fire was intentionally set, and we have taken evidence to the crime lab for testing,” Carrollton Fire Department Chief Jimmy Bearden said. “We are meeting with all the agencies involved to update the status of where we are in the investigation and what steps we take next as we work to determine who is responsible for starting this fire.”
Morris said the fire apparently started in a kitchen area. The investigation is ongoing, but the soil around an area on the front of the structure smelled like charcoal lighter fluid. It appears as though the accelerant may have been inserted into the house through a small opening that was there for access to water pipes. The kitchen area Morris speaks of is right behind that opening.
The interior of the structure was destroyed by the flames as they consumed the ceiling and charred everything in their path.
Staples is shaken badly by the ordeal. Morris said the realization that someone tried to kill him sunk in, and on Monday he didn’t want to talk about it.
“He’s just tore up,” Morris said. “At first he was mad, and now he realizes just how serious this really is. Look at it. Someone took the time to plan this out, and they knew just what they were doing. They didn’t knock on the door and confront him, drag him out and beat him up. They tried to kill him while he slept. Investigators said it took a coward to do this, and they are exactly right. This was the work of a sick person and a coward.”
The attack happened on a nice quiet street off Highway 27 near Walker Lake, not far from Walmart.
Similar crimes in other areas have been prosecuted as hate crimes, which steps up the possible punishment. Even without that label, setting an occupied dwelling on fire after what appears to be a death threat could be considered attempted murder.
The FBI is assisting in some significant ways. They have more resources when it comes to crime scene analysis and they will be handling testing some of the evidence collected at the scene, Taylor said.
“Right now, we are focused on the who, and then we’ll find out the why as we move forward with this investigation,” Taylor said. “This is an active investigation, and I can’t say much more than that. Finding out who is responsible for this is our top priority.”
Neighbors who stopped by Monday said that Saturday night they noticed that their motion sensitive security lights seemed to come on a lot and that dogs in the neighborhood barked much more than normal. Morris showed areas around the house where bushes and plants were trampled and it appeared as though people had been walking around the house a good bit.
She said investigators brought in dogs to search the area, but was unsure of what they found. She said they appeared to just stop tracking a short distance from the house.
She said several local churches have offered their support.
“That has been very nice, and we appreciate that more than I can tell you,” Morris said. “He is pretty shaken and feels alone right now. So any support he can get – I know it would do a lot of good.”