Medford man arrested for intimidation; targeted couple decides to move.
Police arrested a 37-year-old Medford man Friday on hate crime and other charges after an investigation linked him and two companions to an apparent case of racial intimidation that left a cross and the letters "KKK" scorched into a west Medford home of a mixed-race couple late on Memorial Day.
Another hate-filled message was left Thursday night, this time on the street outside Sol and Jonathan Whyte's Benson Street house, prompting the Whytes to say they will leave the neighborhood, but not the Rogue Valley.
Medford police, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and an Oregon State Police detective served a search warrant at the home of Gary David Moss, 37, in the 500 block of Union Avenue at about 3:30 p.m. Friday and interviewed multiple people found there, Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said.
They arrested Moss on charges of first- and second-degree intimidation, first-degree arson, possession of a destructive device and five counts of recklessly endangering another person.
Moss didn't know the Whytes but picked them because of race, Doney said. Jonathan Whyte is from Jamaica and his wife was born in California, but lived in Mexico before coming to the Rogue Valley as a child.
Another man seen running from the Whytes' yard after flames erupted shortly after 11 p.m. Monday, Devan Grant Klausegger, 28, of the 1400 block of Dakota Avenue, was arrested on charges of first-degree arson, manufacture and possession of a destructive device and recklessly endangering another person. Police said he is suspected of tossing altered fireworks onto the porch of a home in the 300 block of Hamilton Street at about 10:30 p.m. Monday. He picked his target because of a clash he had with the home's residents.
An 18-year-old man who was with Moss and Klausegger when the Whytes' home was targeted was interviewed, but not charged, Doney said.
The investigation is ongoing and police are working to see if the men arrested Friday are also linked to Thursday's incident, he said.
A neighbor pedalling by on his bike at about 11:40 p.m. Thursday banged on the Whytes' door to warn the family that he had interrupted a man pouring gasoline on Prune Street to spell out an obscenity and "KKK," Sol White said. The vandal appeared to have more to write before setting the liquid aflame, the man told them.
Whyte said her brothers, who were visiting, ran after the gas-can-toting young man, who darted down an alley and jumped over a fence. Police searched the area, but didn't find anyone, Doney said.
Sol Whyte said she was gradually feeling better during the week as community members had visited to drop off cards and letters of support, flowers and encouragement. The Whytes planned to stay in the home they moved into in January while they explored other places to live around the Rogue Valley. Sol Whyte has lived in the area since she was 9, and her husband came from Jamaica in 2000.
The sickening smell of gasoline and the new message made up her mind that she would have to leave the neighborhood immediately.
"If what they want is for me to move, then I will move," she said. "I have to keep my kids safe."
She said she gave her 30-day notice Friday, but won't stay another month. She was looking for boxes and someone with a truck.
The Whytes plan to live with Sol's mother and put the bulk of their possessions in storage until they can save up for a place of their own.
Sol Whyte's brother, Raf Mesta, who tried to chase down the perpetrator Thursday night, said he didn't think the hate-filled vandalism would happen in his neighborhood near North Medford High School, and his friends and neighbors had offered support for the entire family. Sol Whyte has said she is committed to staying in the region, near her family.
Community support and outrage continued to pour in for the Whytes. Friday afternoon, students from sophomore American studies classes at South Medford High School delivered a stack of more than 80 letters to the family and several boxes of groceries and toys for the girls, Sashagayle, 4, and Jasmatae, 2.
"We learn about this kind of thing in history, but when we heard about it happening in our hometown, we reacted," said Connie McNair, 16.
She said each student gave about 50 cents so they could buy a care package for the family.
"We wanted to show support and let them know that we won't accept this kind of hate crime," Connie said.
Teacher Stephen Jensen said the class had just finished studying Kristallnacht, the "night of the broken glass," in which synagogues were ransacked in 1938 Germany, and he wanted students to come away with the lesson that such atrocities can only happen "when good people acquiesce by their silence."
The Medford Multicultural Commission has called a special meeting for Monday to draft a resolution condemning the hate crime. That resolution will be forwarded to the Medford City Council Thursday, so the city can voice its opposition to racially motivated hate, Councilman John Statler said.
"We definitely want to send a message that this is not acceptable," he said.
Mayor Gary Wheeler called the vandalism "a deplorable act."
"I want to say 'not in my town,'" he said. "We recognize the rights of all to come and live in our city and work and raise a family."
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.