Sol Whyte rests with her children, Sashagayle, 4, and Jasmatea, 2, in the living room of their Benson Street house. She says she appreciates the support from neighbors and others after someone burned a cross and the letters “KKK” into her lawn. - Bob Pennell

Neighbors reach out after vandalism

As news spread that a cross and the letters "KKK" had been seared onto Sol and Jonathan Whyte's west Medford lawn, Sol Whyte returned from the store Wednesday to find a pot of flowers waiting on her porch, left by someone reaching out to show he cared.

"That was nice," she said.

Positive messages trickled in through the day, she said. A local landscaper stopped by to assess the damage and offer help in repairing it. A woman brought a bouquet of flowers.

Justin Gotcher, a neighbor who saw the fire erupt Monday just after 11 p.m., continued to work with police as detectives followed leads from evidence at the scene and tips from the public.

Gotcher, 17, grew up in the neighborhood, but he and India Bisbee, 19, just moved into the house across the street from the Whytes last week. She was dozing on the couch Monday night and he was sitting on the front steps when he saw three young men in jeans and hooded sweatshirts go by.

"I check everybody out in this neighborhood," Gotcher said, noting that there is some gang activity and lots of young people just walking and driving around on weekends.

He saw one man go into the yard across the street and drop something. He said he heard a shattering sound, then saw flames flare high toward a towering tree.

He grabbed his shoes and chased after the men, who had darted down the street toward Union Park. He saw them walking in the park and shouted at them to stop, but they ran away, he said.

Gotcher then returned to the burning lawn, to see if he could knock down the flames or help the family, whom he didn't know, get out of the house.

"I thought it was just the lawn," he said, noting that he was surprised to see the hateful message.

Other neighbors also condemned the apparently racially motivated vandalism.

"It is not cool to have that in the neighborhood," said Joseph Scagatino, who grew up in west Medford and now lives in the same block as the Whytes. "I thought that was rude and disrespectful."

Even outside the immediate neighborhood, community members rallied to show support.

Arlene Aron, who lives in the Applegate and supports progressive causes through the loosely affiliated Applegate Citizens for Political Change, plans to write letters and drop a card and perhaps a small gift by the Whytes' home.

"I want to do something to show that this is not a racist community, that we stand in support," she said. "I know you can't solve it all, but you have to do what you can in your community."

David Gomez, senior pastor of The Jerusalem Center and member of the city's Multicultural Commission and citizens' advisory committee, said he hopes to see the community take a stand for what is right in a variety of ways — from small, private acts to public forums and events.

"There is an undercurrent of negative feelings and this lets us know how easy it is for someone to strike out," he said. "When we see this kind of thing, people who are proactive in making the community and the world a better place to live can see how important that work is."

Police think the case is an isolated incident and still hope to get information from someone who knows who was involved, detective Sgt. Mike Budreau said. Anyone with information is asked to call investigators at 770-4784.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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