The house, a three-bedroom cream-colored residence on a peaceful street, even had yellow and red roses waving merrily from the front lawn. And while the backyard was cramped, there was a nectarine tree, a red swing set and a small gazebo.
This is it, Channise Davy thought. Home.
Happy to have found a place near her salon in Altadena and close to her fiance in Pasadena, the 31-year-old hairdresser moved her four children from North Hollywood into the one-story charmer on Broach Avenue in Duarte last fall.
Davy never thought about the fact that they would be the only black family on the mostly Latino block -- until someone reminded her in a way that still makes her eyes tear and her stomach twist.
On May 8, Davy opened the door to her home and was greeted by a barrage of spray-painted racial epithets. The hardwood floors, the mirrors, the televisions, the dressers -- the vandals had turned the entire place into a canvas for that six-letter word used for decades to scare and scar African Americans.
Shaken, she immediately left and called police. And aside from one trip back to pick up some clothes, Davy has refused to return to a scene authorities believe was created by members of a local Latino gang.
“As far as hate crimes go, it’s probably one of the worst ones I’ve seen in my career,” said Sgt. Tony Haynes of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Duarte station. “They trashed the furniture and tossed drawers -- there was pretty much no room left untouched.”
The incident has been the talk of Duarte, a predominantly white and Latino bedroom community of 25,000 in the San Gabriel Valley. Black and Latino gangs have been active in the area for years, and last year a rash of interracial shootings occurred in nearby Monrovia.
Since the break-in, Davy and her children have lived in a hotel paid for by the county, but those funds ran out Saturday and she is struggling to find a new home in a place that feels safe.
“You can see it in her face, the stress she’s going through,” said Lynn Lawrence, who owns the salon where Davy works. “Emotionally it has had quite an effect on her.”
Wary of disclosing the area in which she hopes to settle, Davy said the last two landlords she spoke with backed out at the last minute. Others have asked for deposits she can’t afford.
“As of now, we really have nowhere to go,” Davy said Monday in the courtyard of Duarte City Hall, where a community meeting had been called to address the incident. “It’s kinda hard to pick up the pieces of what has transpired for me and my family.”
As she spoke, Kenny Johnson was two miles away, lugging green garbage bags down the sidewalk of the working-class neighborhood where his children once played. The father of three of Davy’s children, he had come to the house that morning with his brother and two friends to begin clearing away what belongings could be salvaged.
Johnson said he plans to marry Davy, but he keeps his own apartment so she can maintain her Section 8 eligibility. They had discovered the Duarte house together and agreed: Beautiful home. Beautiful neighborhood.
But after the break-in, the 36-year-old barber sees only an intimidating residence littered with shards of glass. “We were quiet people, man,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief as he picked up children’s shoes and toys. His children haven’t seen the vandalism and only know that something bad happened there.
While his friends pulled a mattress out of the master bedroom, Johnson stopped to look at a wall calendar of Barack Obama. “This is the only thing they didn’t touch,” he said, smiling at the irony of hope hanging on one wall and hate spray-painted across the rest.
The landlord has encouraged the family to return, but Johnson said their sense of security has been violated. They won’t get their deposit back, but moving is worth it, even if it means putting their things in storage for the time being.
“I don’t blame them,” said Davy’s next-door neighbor Betty Peirce, 75. “I don’t think I could come back either.”
One of the few whites who live in the area, Peirce said she hadn’t thought about racial tension during the three decades she has lived on Broach Avenue. She never imagined anything would happen to her black neighbors, especially because they seemed like nice people who were often at work.
Duarte officials and the county’s Commission on Human Relations have extended support to Davy and called for healing in the community.
“It’s obvious that even in Duarte, people still do incredibly stupid and foolish things,” Mayor John Fasana said. He emphasized the city-sponsored programs already in place that promote racial unity, but said, “If there’s gaps out there we need to fill in, we’re open to new ideas.”
Both Davy and Johnson say they just want to move forward with their lives.
“Bad things happen to good people all the time,” Johnson said, taking a break from cleaning. “You just gotta live and learn.”
His brother, Ronald Harris, 31, nodded, then paused. “Our grandparents used to tell us stories about stuff like this,” he said. “We always thought, ‘Nah, not us.’ ”
As birds chirped in the June breeze, the two sat for a moment on the stoop of the three-bedroom cream-colored residence on a peaceful street.