Mar 21, 2011 9:12 PM by Monica Quintero

Cross burning in Arroyo Grande being investigated as hate crime

Arroyo Grande police are investigating a hate crime.

On March 5th, Saint John's Lutheran Church reported its eleven foot cross had been stolen. Then, around 12:30 Friday morning police got called to the 100 block of South Elm Street. A family was frightened after finding the stolen cross burning in their front yard.

Michele Worthington, a neighbor, says she's seen racism and discrimination in Arroyo Grande. She said, "It's not necessarily about race, it's about hatred."

Charred pieces of wood now mark the spot where the eleven foot cross was burned. The mother tells us she believes her family is the victim of racism since she's white, her husband is black and their 19-year-old daughter is mixed.

Chief Steven Annibali of the Arroyo Grande Police Department said officers "have no information on active hate groups in this area." Police are still looking for the suspect or suspects responsible for this terrible crime.

But in the meantime, the pastor of Saint John's Lutheran Church hopes good will come from the bad. Pastor Randy Ouimette said, "We had many, many contacts by strangers who said our hearts go out to you."

Out of that, came something good. The pastor says a business in San Luis Obispo donated a new cross now in the sanctuary. The congregation also now wants to help the family involved in the hate crime by giving them a prayer quilt. Pastor Ouimette said, "I prayer for healing and strength for this family."

As for that neighbor, she has an interesting background. She grew up out-of-state, near a group of KKK members and was exposed to racial hatred. Worthington said, "I think we need to take a stand and say no to the negativity and the hatred and the different things that come across out minds and reach out more to our neighbor."

The church keeps the cross in the sanctuary for lent and then takes it down to the beach for its Easter service. The donated cross was once used at a Los Olivos church until it was remodeled.

The city of Arroyo Grande is offering a $2,500 reward if you can help them track down who's responsible.. San Luis Obispo County CrimeStoppers is also offering a $1,000 reward.



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