Hate-crime case closed as family learns rope in yard was not a noose

Remnant of old swing was left hanging in tree

"We feel a little bit more at ease about it." Darryl Green,new homeowner

May 12, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Police have closed a hate-crime investigation after determining that a rope hanging from a tree in the yard of a black Southwest Baltimore family was part of a swing set left behind by the previous owner -- not a noose placed there as a malicious act.

Lt. Kurt Ellinger of the city's Southwestern District said yesterday that authorities are confident that the previous homeowner, Sol Pombuena, left the rope in the tree when his family moved. Pombuena had attached a child's seat to the rope in 1997 for his daughter, Carmella, then 3, to play on.

Pombuena said yesterday that he couldn't get the rope down when he moved. He knew the new homeowners, Darryl and Christie Green, had a 2-year-old daughter, Rebecca, so he just threw the rope back into the tree thinking they might be able to use it for her.

Apparently the rope became untangled from the tree limbs, police said. After seeing it Tuesday morning, a frightened Christie Green summoned her husband, and they called police. Eventually, 12 officers and a fire engine crowded onto Devonshire Road, where they live. The FBI also announced plans to look into the case.

Residents of Devonshire, a quiet street with manicured lawns, flowers and shrubbery, expressed shock that someone would do something so mean-spirited. Several of them said that if a noose were intentionally put in the Green's tree, they were sure the culprit didn't live in the Kensington community.

A few of them speculated that the 8-foot rope with a slipknot at the end might have been a remnant from the swing set Pombuena had built for his daughter.

The Greens initially said they would have seen the rope in the tree and felt police were trying to play down the issue. After talking to Pombuena and his wife and after examining old photos of the rope and swing set, they became convinced that it was a misunderstanding.

"After Sol and his wife came around and showed me pictures, [I know] it's the same rope," Darryl Green said yesterday. "We feel a little bit more at ease about it, and the neighbors have been really supportive."

Pombuena, 43, and his wife, Maria, stopped by the Greens' home yesterday to apologize for the incident.

"I was just sorry about what happened," Pombuena said by telephone. "That's why me and my wife came out to personally apologize about what happened."

Ellinger said authorities are relieved that the rope was not intended to threaten the Greens, who moved into their home in March.

"We know there are random crimes out there, but if a family is targeted just because of their race, that's a horrible experience for a family to go through," Ellinger said. "We're relieved that it was unfounded and the neighborhood is without problems."

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