Arson evidence doesn't point to gay hate crime
Posted February 7, 2011 1:38 p.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2011 7:10 p.m. EST
Smithfield, N.C. — Johnston County’s sheriff said Monday that there’s no indication right now that a fire set to a gay couple’s home last week is a hate crime, despite previous reports that the two had been harassed.
“As the investigation moves forward, if we see any indication that the hate crime status applies, we will consider it,” Sheriff Steve Bizzell said.
Agents with the State Bureau of Investigation and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined sheriff’s detectives Monday afternoon in their investigation.
It’s unclear what started the fire, but a search warrant released Monday indicates that the blaze was set from within the home, in the Winston Pointe subdivision, off Guy Road just outside Clayton.
The couple did not want to talk to the media Monday, but neighbors have said the men have been harassed on several occasions over the past year.
Bizzell declined to comment on the current investigation but said his office has was aware of two previous reports – one on Dec. 10, 2009, in which someone put a note in the mailbox saying “move sinners” and a second complaint on Nov. 1 about a homophobic slur left on the back of the house.
Neighbors said the couple, which is in the process of moving to Georgia for a new job, had the home on the market for more than a year but that the owner took it off when it failed to sell.
No one was home when the fire broke out sometime between 1:30 a.m. to 3:15 a.m. Friday. Neighbors called 911.
“I looked out my window, and I saw flames shooting 150 feet to 200 feet in the air,” said Alton McDonald. “The house was ablaze. The trusses were there, and within five minutes, the trusses collapsed.”
Meanwhile Monday, investigators were also searching for a white Chevrolet S-10 crew-cab pickup truck that was seen a few days before the fire towing a small trailer with a John Deere LA 115 riding lawn mower and a Troy-Bilt push mower.
Investigators believe the mowers might have been stolen from the home and ask anyone with information to contact the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office at 919-989-5010.