The boy next door was exactly who terrorized John Ruiz and his family in Arleta for two years. Paul M. Downing, who mistakenly believed that Ruiz was Jewish, spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas on the walls, set fires in their home and fired shots into the window.
Ruiz, a Catholic of Spanish ancestry, said he had "a great deal of difficulty" in getting police interested. Detectives turned up nothing. Ruiz turned to the Anti-Defamation League, who persuaded the FBI to pursue it as a civil rights violation. Downing pleaded guilty to eight felonies and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1991.
But the fight left profound scars. After spending $20,000 on fire repairs, Ruiz sold his home of 15 years, where he had hoped to retire. He lost his job as a national sales manager because he was afraid to leave his family to go on business trips.
Today, Ruiz lives in a security building, in a place he will not reveal. He no longer registers to vote because he fears that Downing could obtain his address. He and his wife flinch each time a motorcycle passes because the hatemonger once harassed them from his motorcycle.
"This has been such a trauma in our lives that we just can't shake it," Ruiz said "I am an Everyman. I believe in live and let live. I love my country. And it's horrifying to me that this can be happening in America. But you can't let something like this consume your sanity because then he won. To a degree he won anyway. This will always be with us."