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Victim: Jan. 18 fire in Forsyth due to support of Obama

by Jason Wright

January 21, 2009
CUMMING - In the unseasonable cold of a clear January morning, Forsyth County mother of three and ardent Barack Obama supporter Pam Graf was sifting through the charred, hellish remains of what was once her home on Lanier Drive.

Graf's home had been burned to the ground. No one was in the home at the time of the blaze. Graf said her three children had been sent to stay with their father while she driving to attend the presidential inauguration.

Her trip to witness Obama make history taking the oath of office was cut short midway to Washington, D.C. Instead she returned to meet with county fire investigators and insurance providers. Now she's just trying to decide where to go from here.

In a time of jubilation for a large percentage of the country, Graf is stunned by the apparent hatred to which she has been subjected.

"I can't even make out the rooms," she said. "It's like everything collapsed into the basement. It looks like a bomb went off."

Graf's home burned down early Jan. 18 in what authorities are calling a "suspicious fire." Most shocking to Graf, and to some of the citizens of the county, state and nation at large, was graffiti the apparent arsonist left on scene.

Spray painted on the fence around the home it said, "Beware [expletive deleted] your black boy will die."

While Forsyth County fire investigators refuse to comment on the nature of the statement, Graf, who moved to north Forsyth from Dover, Del., three years ago, said there's little doubt as to its meaning.

"I do not think they were targeting me personally," she said. "It seems obvious that this is a direct result of my support of the president. They don't support the president, so they attack me. I'm a very easy target for someone's racial hatred."

The fire was called in at 4:30 Sunday morning, Jan. 18, said Forsyth County Fire Marshal Steve Anderson, who is leading the investigation. Investigators have no suspects and have not determined the cause of the blaze, he said.

For his part, Anderson would only say the fire is "actively under investigation."

"All I'm saying is it's suspicious," he said. "Right now we don't know what the graffiti means or who it was intended for."

He said if it is determined to be a threat against the president, appropriate action will be taken.

"We'll call in help once we can make those decisions," he said.

Graf said it would have been easy enough for anyone to know no one would be at the house.

"Everyone knew I was going to the inauguration," Graf said. "I told everybody about it, I was so excited."

Graf, who displayed Obama signs in her front yard and a bumper sticker on her car, has tempered her support recently at the urging of her parents, 30 year residents of Forsyth County. Though she planned on leaving her political signs up through Jan. 20, a few weeks ago Graf received a letter in her mailbox demanding she take them down.

It told her to "watch her back" and contained racial epithets.

Her parents thought some costly vandalism might result. Certainly nothing like what has happened.

"They told me someone was going to egg my house or key my car," she said.

Graf said she was aware of Forsyth County's racially charged past. In 1987, when Oprah Winfrey taped a show from Cumming following a Martin Luther King Day march protest, Graf was in town spending time with her parents. She was called by a producer of the show to participate, she said, but did not at the urging of her parents, who feared for her safety.

After this latest tragedy, she's said she just doesn't know what to make of it all.

"My children want me to rebuild," she said. "But I have mixed emotions. I just need time to think about that."