CONNERSVILLE, Ind. – The FBI is investigating a house fire and vandalism in Connersville as arson and a hate crime. Authorities found a racial slur spray painted on the back patio of Connersville City Councilman Tommy Williams’ home on Friday morning.
Williams, his wife Emma and their two sons James and Josh were on vacation at the time.
”My neighbor Karen called me at 3:38 in the morning and said my house is on fire,” Emma Williams said. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh.'”
”I immediately started screaming, ‘Call 911, call 911,'” Emma’s next door neighbor Karen Kalkhof said.
Tragically, two of the Williams family pets died in the fire.
”We lost our beloved lab Roxie, which the neighborhood loved, and a cat. It stinks,” Emma said.
Possibly the most disturbing part, authorities found a racial slur spray painted in big black letters on the Williams’ back patio.
”That is a little hard to process I feel like, because we don’t really have enemies,” Emma said.
The Connersville Police Department called in the FBI to take over the investigation, Emma said agents spent Saturday at the house trying to figure out who did this.
”I have absolutely nobody who I would ever suspect. If I know who did this I would be shocked,” she said.
But, even though she doesn’t know who did this, she’s already forgiven them.
”I can’t be angry with them,” Emma said.
She said her response to this cannot be hate and she hopes her family and town won’t respond like that either.
”Forgiveness is the best option, that’s the best option for all of us,” Emma said.
Emma said the slur spray painted on her patio is made more bearable by their neighbors around them.
”These people are awesome,” she said. “They are our family, we love each other, we watch out for each other.”
What happened is hurting them all right now.
”It broke all of us, there were grown men out here in the street crying,” said Paul Cotton, a neighbor of the Williams.
But this act meant to divide, is uniting instead.
”I am absolutely certain this is bringing everyone closer,” said Leslie Jacobs, a friend of the family.
A fundraiser to help the family pay for restorations to their house has raised more than $25,000 in less than a day, and it’s still growing.
”People are wonderful, people are so generous and so kind and I really can’t think people enough,” Emma said.
Emma and her neighbor do want to make one thing clear, this act of hate, does not represent the people of Connersville.
”The people in this community are hugging and loving, they’re good people,” Williams said.
Emma said they have gotten the greenlight from the FBI to begin to clean up and restore their home of almost 20 years.
”It’s a disaster, but it’s not destroyed,” she said. “They said we could fix all of that.”
Emma said they won’t let the word, hate or person that defaced their home hang over them.
”It’s by my flower bed, where I plant flowers for bees and butterflies and I’m sure not going to think about that when I’ve got that beauty right there beside it,” she said.
The investigation into the house fire, hate crime and possible arson is ongoing. The FBI is leading, with assistance from Connersville Police Department Detectives Division, State Fire Marshall’s Office and the Connersville Fire Dept.