Officials in Lincoln, Nebraska are continuing their investigation into an attack this past weekend in which a lesbian victim reported that three men barged into her home, carved antigay slurs into her body, and set fire to the property.
Police spokeswoman Officer Katie Wood told The Advocate that the department is treating the attack as a hate crime. She said that investigators met Tuesday with the FBI. The federal law enforcement agency has the authority to prosecute violent hate crimes against LGBT victims under The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed in 2009.
“Per our policy, officers classify an offense as a hate crime when it appears likely that hatred or bias was the motivation,” she said. “In this case, derogatory words for sexual orientation were used.”
Officer Flood declined to say what slurs were used, but she said the words were spray painted on a wall in the victim’s home and “carved in her skin.” No suspects have been named, where limited details provided by the victim described the perpetrators as three “possibly white” men wearing masks.
According to local news media accounts, the men barged into the home at 22nd and E streets early Sunday morning, bound the victim’s wrists and ankles, and carved three epithets including the word “dyke” into the woman’s arms and stomach. The victim crawled, naked and bleeding, to a neighbor’s home for help. A fire started by the invaders caused minimal damage to the home.
“The incident’s a little mysterious right now,” said Carl Eskridge, a city council member who represents the area where the crime occurred. “Three people went into the home but there was no forced entry.”
Police continue to piece together the crime. There were no witnesses to the attack, according to Officer Flood, and the victim, an out lesbian in her 30s, has declined to reveal her identity. She has communicated to the media and advocacy groups through friends.
“The victim wants to continue to remain anonymous and keep contact minimal,” said Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, an LGBT rights group in Lincoln. “It’s been demonstrated that there is a lot of support for the victim in this situation.”
Supporters organized a vigil Sunday evening that drew more than 500 participants to the state capitol building. Richard said additional vigils are planned for Wednesday evening at First Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln and at Memorial Park in Omaha on Thursday.
Mayor Chris Beutler issued a statement Monday in response to the crime.
"Hate crimes are despicable and appalling to me and to all Lincoln residents," he said. "Lincoln strives to be a community that embraces tolerance and equality. We stand united with our gay and lesbian citizens in denouncing violence directed at any group. The City of Lincoln and the Lincoln Police Department will do everything in our power to ensure that justice is done."
Details of the crime have rocked Lincoln, a city of 260,000 and home to the University of Nebraska. The town is the birthplace of Brandon Teena, the young transgender man killed in a 1993 triple murder depicted in the film Boys Don't Cry, but officials said violent antigay crimes of the sort reported over the weekend are rare.
“It’s very unusual for Lincoln,” said Officer Flood. “We don’t see crimes like this.”
The Lincoln City Council recently engaged in a high-profile debate over a nondiscrimination ordinance with protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing. Lawmakers passed the measure by a vote of 5-0 in May after a “very long and painful” public hearing, according to Eskridge, who sponsored the proposal.
Opponents of the ordinance have gathered more than the required 2,500 petition signatures to challenge the measure at the ballot, and the city council is considering when and how to proceed. Ron Brown, the Nebraska assistant football coach, had testified against a similar proposal that passed in Omaha in March, telling lawmakers there, “At the end of the day it matters what God thinks most."
Eskridge said that although the atmosphere in Lincoln “has been somewhat charged,” there is no reason at this point to draw any connections between the political debate and this weekend’s hate crime.
“Obviously it’s a very, very, very upsetting issue and it’s something where we should get all the facts before we speak intelligently,” he said.
Richard expressed confidence in the investigation. He said that Lincoln was among the first police departments in the Midwest to establish an LGBT liaison position, while former police chief Tom Casady, now the city’s public safety director, supported the nondiscrimination ordinance.
“I have a lot of faith and trust in our law enforcement department,” he said. “I think what is really important is that here in Lincoln we have seen we have a community that is wiling to come together.”