A family from the Atlanta area has been terrorized repeatedly following the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. In the latest attack, their car was torched while sitting in their driveway. No one was injured in the blaze.
The fire department got the call about the fire outside the Cumming, Ga., home early Wednesday, at 1:55 a.m. "My guys say when they arrived. the vehicle was fully involved, top to bottom and front to back," Division Chief Jason Shivers of the Forsyth County Fire Department tells The Advocate.
Forsyth County Sheriff's Deputy Robin Regan says deputies returned for the second time in as many months. "Our deputies were also involved in the initial response and deployed K-9 Units to search the area for suspects," he tells The Advocate.
Chief Shivers, a spokesman for the fire marshal's office, labeled Wednesday's fire, which totaled the red 2008 Saturn sedan, "suspicious," saying it's too early to determine the cause of the fire, or to even say it was deliberate. "Using the word 'arson' relevant to the vehicle fire is to me extreme," he says.
Although Chief Shivers steered clear of any determination as to motive, he says investigators told him "this case is their highest priority."
Regan tells The Advocate that the sheriff's office is classifing these as hate crimes, even though Georgia law does not recognize antigay hate crimes in its statutes, and they, too, are taking both incidents very seriously.
"From the beginning, we’re treating it as an obvious hate crime ... because previously the house had an American flag flying and just on Friday they changed it to a rainbow flag," Regan said after the first arson attack July 1.
In that first incident, the LGBT Pride flag was ripped down and burn marks were found on the family car's windshield. Sheriff's office investigators determined accelerant had been sprayed on both the flag and the car. A nearby tree was also damaged by the blaze, and the vandals destroyed the landscaping. The total estimate of damage exceeded more than $1,600.
This time, the vandals made sure the car was damaged beyond repair, according to a family friend who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. Additional identifying information about the family has also been withheld while police conduct their investigation. No members of the family were injured in either attack.
The fact the car was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived poses a real difficulty for investigators, Chief Shivers says, because unless a car fire is stopped quickly, unlike in a house fire, "the flames burn up all the evidence." He adds that they cannot rule out the possibility that the fire was accidental in nature, given that vehicle fires occur in Forsyth at a rate of about once a weeks.
"They are a good family," the friend tells The Advocate in an exclusive statement. "Both work. Pay taxes. Volunteer in the community. And they love their kids. I'm going to scream and cry and then I'm going to figure out the best way I can support my beautiful friends."