H-ARROYO GRANDE

Mar 23, 2011 2:56 AM by Ariel Wesler

Police: Cross burning treated as hate crime from the start

The city of Arroyo Grande reassured the public tonight it is doing all it can find those responsible for burning a cross near the home of a mixed-race family.

The 11-foot cross was burned in the 100 block of South Elm Street. The mother tells KSBY News her family is the victim of racism since she's white, her husband is black, and their 19-year-old daughter is mixed.

Investigators identified the pieces of wood as parts of a cross stolen from Saint John's Luthern Church in February or March.

They are calling the incident a hate crime, arson, and theft.

"I'm just sickened that a family had to go through this," said Patty Welsh of Arroyo Grande.

"We need to deal with it and take the appropriate action to educate the community," said Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, President of the local NAACP Chapter.

A lot of people who live Arroyo Grande want their city leaders to do everything in their power to find those responsible for the cross burning.

"Just the thought of waking up and seeing a cross that is bigger than me and bigger than any of you ignited. . .it's very frightening to me," said Arroyo Grande High School Student Carolyn Hinson.

The city and police department say they have always treated this incident as a hate crime, despite reports in some media downplaying their initial reactions.

"To think that any individual would consider this to be some sort of prank is absolutely absurd," said Ryan Page, with Arroyo Grande High School's Gay Straight Alliance.

"We initiated an unprecedented amount of response from the federal, state, and our local partners in law enforcement," said Arroyo Grande Police Chief Steven Annibali.

The police department has stepped up patrols in the area where the crime happened. Officers are also circulating flyers at Saint John's Lutheran Church, where they say the cross was stolen. Many hope those living nearby will come together and come forward with information.

"A home is where you're supposed to feel safe and secure. You're not supposed to be afraid of what's out there," Hinson said.

One woman at Tuesday night's meeting asked the city to setup a fund for people to contribute their own money for a reward. The city says it will look into it.

It is already offering a $2,500 reward for any information leading to an arrest. Crimestoppers is also offering a $1,000 reward. You can remain anonymous.

The FBI, California Department of Justice, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office, and the District Attorney's Office are all involved with the case.

Police say this is just the third hate crime in Arroyo Grande in the last 15 years, the lowest number in San Luis Obispo County.

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