Local News

No Leads Yet In Cross Burnings, Durham Investigators Say

Posted May 26, 2005

— The FBI is working with Durham police as they continue their investigation into three large cross burnings in different parts of the city Wednesday night. On Thursday, they said they have no suspects, leads or motives.

The first incident was reported at 9:19 p.m. Wednesday on a hill near St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Hillandale Road. Half an hour later, police said people spotted a second cross found on a mound of dirt near on South Roxboro Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. The third cross was reported at 10:28 p.m. in a field near Holloway and Dillard streets.

Durham Police Chief Steve Chalmers said investigators are not sure what motivated the cross burnings and could not say whether they were hate crimes, a prank or some other reason.

"Probably in the next day or so, we will have a better idea as to exactly what's behind it," Chalmers said. "Right now, we're treating it as a major incident in the city. We're very serious about the investigation; we're not taking anything lightly. We're not taking it as a prank. We're taking it as a serious threat to the community."

All three crosses had been placed in highly visible areas where many people were likely to see them, investigators said. They do not believe St. Luke's or sites at any of the other locations were specific targets.

Each of the crosses were approximately 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide and were wrapped in burlap and doused in a flammable liquid.

Investigators also found fliers at the third scene. According to the

Herald-Sun

newspaper, the fliers had references to the Ku Klux Klan.

Chalmers said, however, that the police department could not validate it as something from the Klan.

Community activists said it does not matter who burned the crosses, but what the actions symbolize.

"I really recoiled," said Marcia Owen. "Cross burning is associated with violence, hatred and terrorism. It's homegrown terrorism. And it was chilling. It put a chill through my heart."

North Carolina is one of about a dozen states with laws banning cross burning. Although in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled it could only be barred when its intent is to intimidate.

In response to the cross burnings, several groups in Durham are planning vigils Thursday night near the sites where the crosses burned. Many people said they were feeling disbelief and disappointment.

"To ignore this act is to ignore hatred, and we can't do that," said activist Anna Lee Mosley.

Police ask anyone with information to call CrimeStoppers at

(919) 683-1200

.

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