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FBI investigating Monroe Co. fire as possible hate crime

6:38 PM, Sep 13, 2010   |    comments
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The FBI confirmed it is now investigating a Labor Day weekend house fire as a possible hate crime.

Monroe County Sheriff Bill Bivens said his investigators are still working on the case and it's too early to say whether the fire was arson or a hate crime.

But the victims are already convinced.

"It has shaken me to the core," Laura Stutte said, holding on to her partner Carol Ann Stutte.

"This is our first time from the safe house and she did great," Carol Ann Stutte said, patting Laura's arm.

The couple explained that years of threats from a particular neighbor had escalated.

They installed a gate, security lights, and barbed fencing around their home near Vonore in Monroe County.

"The final threats near the end were we were going to be killed and our house burned down. And we were told what's better than one dead queer is two dead queers to our face. That's when we finally started filing police reports," Carol Ann Stutte said.

They came home from a Labor Day weekend trip to find a slur painted on their garage next to where their house used to stand.

"Everything we worked for for the last 5 years just burned down to the ground," Laura Stutte said.

Carol Ann Stutte said people have reached out to them since the fire destroyed what they hoped would be their retirement home.

"I was just sitting out on the land, no home, and these wonderful people like angels came and got us and said you're coming with us. You will be safe and that's where we've been staying," she said.

They don't plan to rebuild on the land they had transformed into a place they thought of as Eden.

But the two do want to stay in East Tennessee.

"So many many people have come out and are sending their love and prayers," Carol Ann Stutte said.

As for the person who burned down their house, Carol Ann Stutte said, "I want to see them get help. I do not want them to be able to do this to anyone else."

Monroe County's Sheriff said the state Bomb and Arson squad is looking into the arson angle of the house fire.

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