Seven members of an African American family in upstate New York are lucky to be alive after what police say was a racially motivated arson on Mother’s Day.
“It’s very disturbing,” Schodack Police Chief Joseph Belardo told HuffPost. “We’re throwing every resource we have into investigating this, and when we find the person responsible, they will be facing some very serious criminal charges.”
Laquan Madison discovered the fire when he awoke to use the bathroom late Sunday night and noticed an orange glow in a window, police said. Madison looked outside to see his detached garage on fire, and the flames inching closer to his house.
“I screamed my wife’s name,” Madison told The Albany Times Union. “We all got out.”
Firefighters quickly saw that the blaze was far more sinister than most house fires.
“When they arrived, they saw a swastika and a racial epithet had been spray-painted on the garage,” Belardo said. “Putting that together with this fire is why we are investigating this as a hate crime.”
The garage burned to the ground, but volunteer firefighters from five area departments saved the family’s home and limited the damage to the exterior.
The Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office and New York State Police are assisting Schodack police investigating the cause of the blaze. The Times Union reported the garage was not hooked up to electricity.
A motive behind the crime – aside from hate – is unknown to police. Authorities said they’re unaware of any prior issues involving any family members.
“This family has lived in this neighborhood for years,” Belardo said.
Laurie Salzer, who lives in the neighborhood with her husband Adam, told Albany’s WNYT NewsChannel 13 it’s a quiet neighborhood.
“Everyone gets along with one another and they’re all friends,” Salzer said. “So that’s another reason why this is so very disturbing.”
Belardo said hate crimes are uncommon in Schodack, a small town in Rensselaer County. He said he can’t recall a similar crime during his two decades on the police force.
“This does not represent our community,” Belardo said. “The community is outraged. We are 100-percent behind the family.”
Madison told the Times Union he is glad his wife and children escaped.
“People are going to be who they are,” Madison said. “My hope is they understand life is not a joke. You can’t toy with people.”
Investigators said evidence from the crime scene may help identify the perpetrator.
Meanwhile, members of the community have been reaching out to the police department to see how they can help the Madison family.
“We’re getting calls from all over the area,” Belardo said. “It makes me proud that members of my community are stepping up and this family is not going through this alone. I know [the Madisons] are fearful, but we’re confident and working toward a quick resolution.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Schodack police at 518-477-8077.