Hate crime vigil

Hundreds crowd the west steps of the Capitol on Sunday, July 22, 2012, in a vigil against violence sparked by a woman's account of a violent, hate-fueled attack. (TED KIRK/Lincoln Journal Star)

Raymond Strozier heard sirens outside his house early Sunday and looked outside to see his neighbor bleeding in the street, the victim of a reported hate crime in which her attackers carved anti-gay slurs into her skin and tried to light her house on fire.

Strozier said he ran to her just before paramedics pulled her away.

“She had blood streaming down her body,” he said. “She was crying. She was shaking. She was terrified.”

The 33-year-old woman said she was attacked early Sunday by three masked men who barged into her house, bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties and cut her all over her body before dumping gasoline on her floor and lighting it with a match, said a friend who spoke to the Journal Star.

The victim’s friend said the woman crawled from her house, naked and bleeding and screaming for help, before reaching the doorstep of a neighbor's home.

The woman told police three masked men came in but gave no further description, Lincoln Police Officer Katie Flood said. Investigators have no suspects.

Police said Monday they still were investigating the case but declined to release details of what they think happened. If police zero in on suspects, investigators want details about the crime to come from their memory, not from what they've read or seen in the media, Flood said.

"We don't want to provide too many details," she added.

The reported attack reverberated throughout the city and the across the nation. Hundreds rallied and held a vigil Sunday night, waving rainbow flags and holding candles at the state Capitol. Gay blogs and news organizations from across the country picked up the story, including CNN, Reuters and the Huffington Post.

The victim has lived in her house six years, according to neighbor Linda Rappl. The woman mowed neighbors’ lawns, raked leaves and helped Rappl shovel snow.

“(The attackers) only saw a small part of who she was,” Rappl said.

Local and national figures denounced the attack, including Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler.

“Hate crimes are despicable and appalling to me and to all Lincoln residents,” Beutler said. “Lincoln strives to be a community that embraces tolerance and equality. We stand united with our gay and lesbian citizens in denouncing violence directed at any group.”

“The accounts of the violence inflicted upon this woman are truly horrific,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign.

Lincoln Police Capt. Joe Wright said officers were called to 22nd and E streets at about 4 a.m. Sunday on a report of a fire and found the woman across the street from her house. They were told she had been assaulted by more than one person, who then tried to start the house on fire, he said.

City Fire Inspector Damon Robbins said a match ignited vapors from a pool of gasoline on the woman's floor, but the flash fire did not continue to burn and caused no noticeable damage to the house. Police records put total damage at $200.

Police said no one else was home at the time of the attack. The woman was taken to the hospital, but it was unclear whether she was still a patient Monday.

The attack hit close to home for Strozier, who moved to the neighborhood six months ago with his family. Strozier has 12-, 7-, and 2-year-old daughters.

“Someone was actually violated” who lives on his block, he said. “It’s real scary for me and my family because we have to live here.

“I’m not going to let someone stop me from having an enjoyable life,” he said, “but at the same time I have to watch out for my family.”

He said he would look out for the woman once she returned home, something all Lincoln residents should take to heart as the message of the attack.

“This ought to be a message to, not just this neighborhood, but all of Lincoln,” Strozier said. "We should all come together and watch each others’ backs.”

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Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/LJSedwards.