A same-sex couple in Joplin who say they were victims of a hate crime last November are speaking out in hopes of preventing similar problems. Now, some in the community are rallying to help. Engaged couple Darci Sneed and Megan Stanley said that two months ago their home was broken into, vandalized with homophobic slurs and then set on fire.

“Die f– b—–s” was written in black marker across their back porch.

“You will pay for your sins” was plastered across their hallway.

“Die” and “F–” were painted in their bedroom.

On Thursday, the couple donned headlamps and face masks to survey their home on South New Hampshire Avenue for items that could be salvaged from the blackened, boarded-up structure.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to save anything, but we have to do a full contents inventory,” Stanley said.

Stanley, who has lived in Joplin her entire life, said the single-story brick home had belonged to her grandmother, and she had grown up with many memories inside the now-scorched walls. The family had purchased the home in June, living there with their 6-year-old daughter.

“We don’t have rainbow flags in our front yard, and we don’t flaunt it,” Sneed said of their same-sex relationship. “I feel like it’s someone who knows the neighborhood because it’s hard to even see that we have a back porch.”

Ongoing investigation

Joplin police were called to a structure fire at around 9:50 a.m. on Nov. 5, and the fire was put out by the Joplin Fire Department. The Joplin Police Department Investigations Bureau is conducting an investigation.

A neighbor called the couple to notify them that their home was in flames. Sneed said she was at work and was in Girard, Kansas, when she received the call.

“I called Megan and asked if it was bad, and she said, ‘Yes,'” Sneed said. “Someone did it and wrote on our walls. I got here an hour later, and she got here first because she was at her aunt’s house.”

“When I got here, my uncle was waiting and the first thing I did was try to figure out what was going on,” Stanley said, “but he stopped me and asked, ‘Do you have any idea who would have done this?’ and ‘Why would they have been targeting you?’

“I was hysterical and asked him what he meant. He explained that there were homophobic slurs on our walls and stuff. We covered it up because every time we came to do inventory, we were just sick of seeing it.”

The women also said their back door had been kicked in. Nothing was stolen or ransacked, but a fire had been set in the living room. The home, which is still standing, has severe internal damage, and the family is now staying in an apartment across town. They’re not sure if they’re going to renovate the home and move back in.

“The fire was set right in front of a ‘Mrs. and Mrs.’ sign that we planned on using for our wedding, as well as a (gay) pride candle and a picture of us,” Stanley said.

Hate crime?

The two women believe they were the victims of a hate crime, which is defined by the FBI as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”

Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Heartland in St. Louis, said hate crimes can be difficult to prove because there has to be clear intent. ADL Heartland, an anti-hate organization that fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, serves southern Illinois, Missouri and eastern Kansas.

“The challenge for police departments is figuring out what that intent is,” she said. “We have always realized that it’s harder sometimes to determine that intent. Hate crimes tend to take a little longer. When it comes to prosecution, sometimes what we see is police departments do a reasonable job of building the case, but the prosecutors don’t want to take it forward. They’re often dealing with conservative juries who are not going to be sympathetic to hate crime victims — in many cases, those who are in the gay community.”

Stanley said the “hate crime” element is what prompted the couple to go public about their experience. “I feel that if it had been a race-related crime or a Muslim family, the news would have been all over it,” she said. “How could it not be a hate crime with the words people used?”

Community support

The two women say support from the community is helping them make it through the disaster. They received a letter from the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce expressing sympathy.

“On behalf of the Joplin business community, I want to offer our condolences for what happened to you and your home,” wrote Toby Teeter, president of the chamber. “Please let me know how we can help restore your home and your faith in Joplin.”

Another friend set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for clothes and personal items for the family; it has collected $2,175 from 61 donors as of Friday.

James Whitford, executive director of Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission, made a donation of $100 and wrote a comment on the campaign page.

“I would not usually reveal my name when I make a gift to a need like this, but I was hopeful that some other Christians would be challenged to jump in on your fundraiser,” he wrote. “I understand the gay community may feel rejection, but I assure you, Christ’s command to His followers is always love. And regardless of whether or not any person’s lifestyle conflicts with religious conviction, hate is never justified.”

The couple say they will appear in court on Jan. 20 to give a sworn affidavit for insurance purposes. If any suspects are later identified, the women said they’re going to ask to press charges.

The two also said that by speaking out, they hope to protect and help others who may feel marginalized and attacked.

“Still stand up and be you, regardless of what other people may think,” Stanley said. “You’ll get through it, and you’ll be stronger in the end.”