Arson at Florida day care investigated as possible hate crime

The fire caused moderate damage to the Little Leapers Day Care facility in Fort Lauderdale, but swastikas were painted on its front.

Swastikas were spray-painted on the front of a South Florida day care facility that was burglarized and set on fire, authorities said.

Fort Lauderdale police Lt. Frank Sousa said Sunday that investigators "would look at everything that is there," including the possibility that the break-in and arson were hate crimes, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

The early-morning fire at the Little Leapers Day Care and Performing Arts Academy apparently started in the kitchen. The building is also used as a church on Sundays, said Little Leapers co-owner Sandra Wilson, according to the Sun Sentinel.

The fire caused moderate damage to the building, Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue spokesman Matt Little said. There were no injuries.

Vandals defaced the day care's walls with three red swastikas, shattered windows and stole keyboards, drums, speakers, mixing boards, microphones and other pieces of electronic equipment, Sandra Wilson told the Sun Sentinel.

"Who could hate so much to do something like this?" she was quoted as saying in the newspaper.

Three weeks before the fire, an anonymous caller phoned in a threat to the day care, lead schoolteacher Joyce Bryant told The caller used a racial epithet and told the day care "to get out of the neighborhood," Wilson, who is black, told the Sun Sentinel.

Wilson said about 30 children ages 6 weeks to 6 years attend the day care during the day, and about a dozen elementary pupils come for after-school day care. The school is racially mixed, with a white majority, she said.

The day care will be closed until further notice.


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