Hate Crime: In N.C., Gay Man’s House Torched

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Nov 10, 2008

Hate crimes against gays often involve verbal or physical assault, but they can also consist of property destruction. For one North Carolina gay man, that meant the loss of his house through arson.

The Observer News Enterprise, a Newton, N.C. newspaper, carried a Nov. 7 story about the burning of Melvin Whistlehunt's home, which was incinerated as a suspected hate crime, taking with it all of his belongings.

Whistlehunt was working in the wee hours of Nov. 7 when a phone call from his mother alerted him that his house was burning.

Firemen at the scene saw immediately that the fire was the result of arson; they also saw an anti-gay message scrawled in spray paint across the structure's brick wall.

A hate crime investigation was begun as soon as Whistlehunt's mother informed the firemen that the graffiti had not been there before.

Whistlehunt, who is openly gay, was quoted by the paper as saying, "I don't know of anybody who would go this far" to express displeasure at his sexuality.

The article quoted the emergency management coordinator for Catawba County, Karyn Yaussy, who said that the burning of Whistlehunt's home "is considered a hate crime."

Said Jason Drum, who heads up the local volunteer fire department, "I've been in the fire service 10 years and I've never seen anything like this."

The fire was called in just before 2:21 a.m. on Nov. 7; the fire was raging by the time the department arrived to combat the flames. Whistlehunt was away at work, where he got word from his mother, who phoned with the news.

The fire was so hot and so intense that nothing was left intact within the structure, which was gutted.

Said Drum, "We battled that thing for over an hour before we were able to get it under control.

"The fire was so big it was just hard to get a handle on."

In the end, seven trucks and 28 firemen were needed to quench the flames.

It took 28 firefighters and seven trucks to get the fire out.

The article quoted Whistlehunt as saying, "I'm really upset.

"Everything I had was in that house."

Added Whistlehunt, "There is nothing left at all."

Members of Whistlehunt's family were also displaced by the blaze, since the water supply for their residence came through Whistlehunt's.

"They can't even live there without water," said Whistlehunt.

The article said that though there is no hate crimes legislation per se in Catawba County, bias-driven arson is a more serious felony than other sorts of arson.

No arrests have been made, though authorities said they had identified persons of interest.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2008-11-11 10:59:40

    Interesting. Wonder what kind of person Whistlehunt was. Not all gay people are responsible citizens, kind to animals, good neighbors, and honest businessmen. Some gays are in fact complete asshole. Who knows, but the reporting here is paper thin, jumps on the thinnest whisper of "hate crime" and trumpets its unwarranted conclusions in big bold headlines without an ounce of investigative reporting having actually taken place. It doesn’t have to walk and talk like a duck. If it ever even saw a duck, it’s a duck in this reporter’s world. Typical Melloy.

  • , 2008-11-11 11:44:59

    Interesting article, but also interesting comment above since it touches on one of the least reported issues in our community, GLBT on GLBT hate crimes. Yes, Mr. Whistlehunt’s experience was tragic, but please remember that although hate crimes happen often by straight bigots towards the GLBT community, this faction is not the ONLY group responsible for such crimes. How seldom we hear in the media about all of the clandestine GLBT "activist" cliques which form and brutally engage in hate related tactics to those others in the GLBT community who may disagree with them. And then we have the "GL" business clique, who discriminates against others who don’t agree with their corporate agendas or "best practices" rhetoric. White collar hate, but hate crimes none the less. So I feel that the above reader raises an important question of when is the media ever going to do articles about GLBT on GLBT hate crimes ??? Certainly, I would hope that the celebrity business clique and its "sponsorships" aren’t more important than reporting the entire story and the truth.........

  • , 2008-11-14 10:13:54

    Sounds to me as if both the previous commentators are more interested in their own personal issues than in reviewing the article objectively. If they’d read the original newspaper article via the link provided, they’d have seen that the message spray-painted on Mr. Whistlehunt’s house was racist as well as anti-gay. The incident’s occurring the same week as our national elections (and in an area that is heavily Republican) suggests someone with a political axe to grind, although the motive could be partly personal as well. In this rural area, and with all the "demonizing" pre-election, the idea of someone going after the nearest target who qualifies as "not like us" is not a long stretch of imagination. As an investigator myself, I always consider the possibility of the homeowner’s involvement: but from the newspaper article, the victim had only owned the house for a year (so likely didn’t have a lot invested), and his family lived next door (doubtful he would harm them); plus he appears to have a strong alibi (Petro Express--a gas station/convenience store--isn’t the sort of job you can leave for long, even at night.) So he drops pretty far down on the list of possible suspects, in my opinion. Regarding his character, I know as little about that as does the first writer, but I’d have to agree with the police that the evidence at this point suggests that there’s more to the motive than just not liking the guy.

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