Cross burned into Anoka family's lawn

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 26, 2007 - 10:22 PM

A black family in Anoka awoke to find the shape of a cross seared into the lawn. It is being investigated as a hate crime.

The marks were hard to make out in the pre-dawn light Wednesday, but as the sun came up, De'Andre June was finally able to see the shape burned into his grass overnight.

"That looks like a cross," he said to his sister-in-law, Patricia Cail.

June called the police, who examined the ashes and charred grass and are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

The family, which moved this year to the quiet leafy neighborhood on Anoka's east side, is black.

The cross, 10 feet long and 6 feet across, was burned into the grass next to the family's driveway. Someone poured lighter fluid or some other accelerant on the lawn, then set it on fire, Anoka police Capt. Philip Johanson said.

The incident left June fuming about the "cowards" who, he said, wouldn't confront him face to face.

But by afternoon, June was feeling a little better, helped in part by the sympathy of other residents in the predominantly white neighborhood who left flowers on the front step and stopped to offer their support.

"I just wanted to say I was sorry, because that does not reflect how we feel at all. ... I just hope you know it was not your neighbors," said Lisa Skaalerud, who walked over with her children to speak to June and his wife, Mary.

"Thank you for stopping by," Mary June replied.

Anoka police haven't found anyone who saw or heard anything suspicious, Johanson said.

So far there are no suspects, he said. The crime, considered an assault intended to cause fear based on bias, is a gross misdemeanor.

The house next door was burglarized a couple weeks ago, and a footpath that runs alongside the June home leads to busy Bunker Lake Boulevard NW., a possible route for troublemakers.

"We really need somebody who noticed something," Johanson said.

Since the 1990s, cross burnings have occurred occasionally throughout the metro area. Incidents have been reported in Eden Prairie, Coon Rapids, Andover, Maplewood, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis.

The last reported incident happened last year in St. Paul, when a cross was burned outside a church with a largely black congregation.

The last reported racially charged incident in Anoka occurred in 2003, when the family of a 15-year-old black Anoka High student found epithets and obscenities spray painted on the family garage.

In the 1990s, Anoka High officials grappled with problems surrounding a white-supremacist group of students and former students.

Floyd Van Engen, who lives a few doors down from the June family, said he noticed nothing unusual when he got home at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday and left again at 6 a.m.

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