FT. LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – An arson investigation turned into much more after hate messages were found at a Ft. Lauderdale day care which had been set ablaze.
Firefighters were called to the Little Leapers Day Care and Performing Arts Academy, at 1300 Riverland Road, around 3:30 a.m. Sunday.
When they arrived they found a fire in the building’s kitchen and three red backwards swastikas scrawled in red paint on the outside of the building. Investigators said the paint was fresh.
“This is a demonic thing, you don’t do this to a school,” said Rose Ellis who lives in the neighborhood.
Whether they wanted to see it or not, several children and their parents learned a lesson in intolerance simply by showing up at the day care Monday morning.
“I think that’s really bad, that’s all I can say. I’m just shocked right now because I didn’t know,” said Marie Etienne whose son goes to the day care.
Investigators found an accelerant inside and signs that someone broke into the building.
The Little Leapers daycare is also used as a sanctuary of the Bethel Worship Center on Sundays.
The owner of the day care, Pastor Dr. Ivory Wilson, said he was grateful the fire was confined to one area.
“God blew the fire out because it didn’t go further than the kitchen,” Wilson.
Wilson suspects the center was targeted because it’s the only African-American owned business on the south side of Davie Boulevard on Riverland Drive.
“We’ve had problems ever since we’ve been here,” said Wilson.
Wilson said they’ve been the victim on a number of petty crimes in the four years that the day care has been open. He said, for example, someone has repeatedly knocked the building’s dumpster against the center’s truck. Also, someone has called city officials a number of times demanding that they go and check out the facility. And then there are the threats.
“One of the teachers said she received a call, verbal threats to get out, used some vulgar, the N-word,” said Wilson. “Said get out the neighborhood.”
Those who live in the area say Davie Boulevard divides a white and black neighborhood and that this area has a lot of racial tension.
“I don’t think it will ever change until God comes,” said Ellis.
The attack on the day care has left some parents worried about whether their kids will be safe here.
“I don’t know if I should bring him here anymore or not because of that hatred stuff on the wall. Now I’m scared to death for my son’s life,” said April Martinez.
Despite the acts of hate, Wilson is determined to keep his doors open for the children.
“We’re not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to stay right here and do what we came here to do,” said Wilson.
After hearing of the swastikas and the fire, the The Anti-Defamation League issued the following statement.
“This heinous incident is unacceptable, and we ask that the entire community – leaders and residents – stand shoulder to shoulder to publicly condemn this potentially bias-motivated crime targeting the center,” wrote Yael Hershfield, ADL Interim Regional Director.
Day care workers will spend the next couple of days cleaning up and hope to have it re-opened as early as Wednesday.