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Symbols of Hate Heighten Burglary Victims' Fears

August 22, 1993|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ROWLAND HEIGHTS — The cul-de-sac of Bold Street has always been in an ethnically mixed neighborhood where Latino, Asian and Anglo kids play Nintendo together and families pool their cash to wipe graffiti off the freeway wall a block away.

But Tuesday, a Taiwanese family returned to their Bold Street house from a three-week vacation to find that sense of community shattered: Vandals who broke into the house burned "KKK," a swastika and other symbols into their carpet, Sheriff's Sgt. Lynn Judes said.

The culprits also stole a Nintendo computer, a $100 baseball card collection, singed the strings of a violin and took the family car out for a spin, said Michael Tan, 15, a neighbor who surveyed the damage alongside the stunned family.

The house was permeated with the stench of insecticide and gasoline. Stephen Ko, 43, his wife, Judy, and their two children, 15 and 10, have lived there about three years. The incident left them shaken.

"The kids are scared to come home. They're at a friend's house right now," Judy Ko said Wednesday. "We can't even stay here, the smell is so bad."

An anarchist symbol, the word Satan and a pentagram were singed into the rug with "an unknown chemical and/or fire," Judes said, and vandals burned a six-inch hole in the living room sofa.

The incident is being treated as an arson, burglary and civil rights violation, Judes said. He said it was probably the work of teen-agers who are not affiliated with any organized hate groups.

"The symbols as a group don't go together," Judes said. "The person who put these things on there is obviously not the member of any one of these groups, so it's kids playing games. . . ."

While the Kos were away, the Tans' house was draped in toilet paper, and the house of Latino neighbors was defaced with eggs.

"The toilet paper didn't bother me because kids do things like that. But when I heard about this, I was upset. That's way beyond a prank," said Sherylle Tan, 18, Michael's sister.

"Our neighborhood's pretty multicultural. All the kids play with each other, and it's really nice. The people we live around, I still trust them, but for people from the outside to do this, it's kind of weird."

Kim Wernke, 16, who attends Rowland High School with one of the Ko children, described him and his sister as diligent students who study after school at a Chinese school, play piano and violin, and are accepted by their peers.

Wernke said there is increasing gang activity a few blocks away. And practically every weekend, new graffiti appears on the freeway wall nearby. A neighbor down the street paints over it with the help of cash collected from households on the block, she said.

But the racial hostility implied by last week's vandalism shocked her more than encroaching gang activity has, she said.

Some families on the block called the incident a freak intrusion and a teen-age prank, and said their confidence in the region's tolerance remains unshaken.

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