The victims of the Nov. 16 arson, in which a raccoon was set afire on their front lawn, have come forward, and they say the evidence points to a political and racial motive for the violent crime.
This year, “we chose to display Black Lives Matter and Martin Luther King signs along with our Biden/Harris banner,” said Ellie Salahub. “As a result, we’d been experiencing passersby shouting profanities and making vulgar gestures at us and our property on almost a daily basis.”
“We’ve had incidents with our signs for years,” said Ellie’s husband, John. “It’s been accelerated over the past year. We had to reinforce the signs by screwing them into our wooden rail fence, but that wasn’t enough to stop them.”
So the Salahubs installed a camera on the front of their house, which caught the arsonists fleeing after they ignited the animal.
The Salahubs recounted the events of that night in a recent interview with LebTown.
At abut 8:45 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 16, “we were in our kitchen and we heard individuals outside yelling something,” said Ellie Salahub. “It sounded close, more than people just driving by.”
Suddenly “we heard our neighbor yell ‘John!’ and we opened the door and saw a fire at the end of our driveway,” said John Salahub.
As the neighbors were calling 911, “we walked over to the fire and saw [the burning raccoon] at the end of our driveway, near our Martin Luther King sign. It was pretty horrifying,” Ellie Salahub said.
North Cornwall Township police and firefighters responded to the scene. Police announced the next day that an investigation was underway, but that no suspects had been identified.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
The Salahubs have reported the incident to local elected officials, the Lebanon County NAACP chapter, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
“I spoke to all three county commissioners, and left messages with the staffs of [State Senator] David Arnold and [State Representatives] Russ Diamond and Frank Ryan,” said Ellie Salahub.
“I had discussions with [Commissioners] Jo Ellen [Litz], Bill [Ames], and Bob [Phillips], and they all denounced it privately. But, we are asking for a public condemnation of this,” she said.
She added that the county commissioners have invited her and her husband to an upcoming workshop session.
And the incidents haven’t stopped. In a telephone interview on Dec. 13, John Salahub reported that “just a couple days ago, someone drove past and yelled ‘f&*k MLK!'”
North Cornwall Township Police Chief John Leahy was unavailable on Dec. 27 to comment on the Salahubs’ belief that the raccoon burning was a hate crime. However, NCPD Sergeant Harry Ward stated at that time that there were no investigation updates, and still no suspects.
“What I’m concerned about,” said Ellie Salahub, “is if these people were willing to take violent and aggressive action against signs and an animal, what are they willing to do to a person?”
John Salahub added “there’s this underlying hatred and bigotry, and it’s mostly out of ignorance. As soon as I put up the Black Lives Matter sign I started getting all kinds of flak.”
What bothers him as much as anything else is the fact the perpetrators probably drive by his house regularly and may live nearby. “These people are our neighbors.”
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