25 American flags burned in Abingdon

Neighborhood residents angered

Harford sheriff gives case priority

October 11, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

After watching news reports this week of protesters overseas burning American flags, Timothy Garress said he thought he was dreaming when he looked out his window and saw a neighbor's flag smoldering on the ground.

Not in America, he thought. And certainly not in the Laurel Valley section of Abingdon.

But what Garress saw was no dream. The flag was one of 25 set afire early yesterday in the neighborhood.

By some accounts, all but two flags displayed in front of homes on Laurel Valley Garth, St. Mary's Church Road and Long Meadow and Laurel Valley courts were burned. Some of the flags were stolen from homes and burned in the streets. Others were burned while attached to porches.

One home sustained minor damage from the heat of the burning flag, said Lt. Edward Hopkins, a Harford County Sheriff's Department spokesman.

At one home on Laurel Valley Garth, three flags were burned.

"I think it is just a mindless prank that someone thinks is going to be funny or cute," said Pat Jones, 43, whose 11-by-14-inch flag was burned. "I'm just mad."

Harford County law enforcement officials launched what they called a major search yesterday for the culprits.

"Make no mistake, this is not a constitutional issue. We are dealing with thieves," said Harford County Sheriff Joseph P. Meadows. "We are not only dealing with thieves displaying a lack of intelligence, but they are sorely in need of a civics lesson."

Meadows dispatched more than a half-dozen officers to the neighborhood yesterday to talk to residents. He also directed his community policing officers and school policing teams to join the investigation.

As of last night, no suspects had been identified.

Hopkins said the level of anger in the community is one reason officials want to catch the perpetrators before someone else does.

"This can actually breed violence," Hopkins said. He said the flags likely were burned between midnight and 5 a.m.

Garress, 41, might have witnessed the vandalism, Hopkins said. As he stomped out his neighbor's smoldering flag, he saw a man running from another neighbor's yard.

Garress ran after the man but couldn't catch him.

"If he had a statement to make, he could have wrote us all a note and taped it to our door," Garress said.

But residents said they would not be deterred from patriotic displays in the aftermath of the attacks Sept. 11 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"I plan on buying a bigger one, that is going to be my retaliation," said Jones, who went shopping for another flag yesterday. "Unfortunately, not too many places have one. They are all sold out."

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