LOS ANGELES — An 11-foot cross was stolen from a church and set on fire next to the home of a black family, igniting anger and disbelief in a prosperous, mostly white Central California community that hasn't seen a hate crime in nearly a decade.
Police assigned extra patrols to the neighborhood in Arroyo Grande and rewards were offered for information leading to an arrest. Church leaders were urged to mention the family in their prayers.
"I was horrified," said the Rev. Stephanie Raphael, president of the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association. "We live in a paradise, and I think the first thought was, this can't really be real."
The cross was stolen from a garden at Saint John's Lutheran Church weeks ago and set ablaze Friday in a lot behind the house where the family lived, police Cmdr. John Hough said.
A 19-year-old woman awoke about 12:30 a.m. and saw the flaming cross from her bedroom window. Arriving officers doused burning pieces of wood with a garden hose.
A telephone call to the house was not answered Tuesday.
Police declined to release the names of the family members because the incident was considered a hate crime — the first since 2002 in the city of 17,000 people in mostly rural San Luis Obispo County, a region of vast farms, picturesque small towns and a state university campus.
More than 30 clergy members signed a letter to the editor of the San Luis Obispo Tribune urging that the crime be taken seriously.