IOWA CITY — After attending a family gathering to mourn the death of his father Friday night, Amar Samel said he returned home just after midnight to find a handwritten note taped to his front door.
“You can all go home now. We don’t want (a racial epithet) and terrorists here. #Trump.”
The American citizen from Sudan was shocked.
“I did not believe what I was seeing. I live in a peaceful city, a liberal city that is accepting of diversity,” said Samel, who works as a night custodian at Iowa City West High School.
“It’s scary, too,” added his wife, Muna Abdalla, who was home with their children, ages 8 to 16, when the note was delivered. She had just turned out the lights, which she thinks might have signaled the person to advance to the front door.
Samel did not touch the note, instead calling 911 while looking up and down the dark street. The dispatcher was sympathetic and said she was sorry this had happened to Samel and his family.
A few minutes later, a police officer called and asked if Samel knew who left the note or whether Samel had any enemies. Samel said no.
“He said, ‘Take it (the note) down and throw it away. There’s really nothing I can do,’ ” Samel said, recounting his conversation with the officer.
The officer declined to come to the house to take photos or record a statement, Samel said.
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Interim Iowa City Police Chief Bill Campbell said Monday the response of the police was “absolutely unacceptable” and not typical of the agency. He confirmed to The Gazette Samel had called 911 at 12:37 a.m. Saturday and that an officer returned the call a few minutes later, but did not go to the house.
“A phone call was by no means sufficient,” Campbell said. “These are things that are sensitive and cause fear. I would certainly understand if there was a delay, but I would still expect us to respond to the residence.”
The note left on Samel and Abdalla’s door can be analyzed for fingerprints, handwriting or other evidence, Campbell said. Some of that evidence can be destroyed when paper is handled. “If we had responded to the scene, we would have had the opportunity to have that note handled less,” Campbell said.
As soon as Campbell learned of the incident Monday, he assigned a detective and the department reached out to Samel, he said.
Abdalla, who works part-time at Hy-Vee, circulated a photo of the note to her neighbors over email Saturday to see if anyone had seen anything suspicious.
Neighbors then posted the photo on social media, decrying its hateful message. As the photos circulated online, Samel and Abdalla started getting visits from friends, neighbors and strangers bringing flowers, cookies and a huge balloon. Friends chalked messages of support on the driveway.
— Stephen Mally (@stephenmally) November 15, 2016
Julie Eisele, of Iowa City, doesn’t know the family but heard about the note and dropped off flowers Monday.
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“I was truly disgusted by that action,” she said. “You hear about these things happening, but you don’t really know if it’s true. When I heard people say this was their neighbor, it really hit home.”
Samel and Adballa have lived in their house less than a year, helping pound in the final nails of the Habitat for Humanity home last December. The family moved to the United States from Sudan in 2010 and became naturalized citizens in May 2015. The couple has four children; the oldest is a junior at West, where she’s heard more anti-immigration comments since Republican Donald Trump’s election to president last week, her parents said.
“This is a consequence of what their leader said before the election,” Samel said, referring to Trump’s statements about immigrants.
But the family is heartened by the outpouring of support from friends and neighbors, who they know are going to keep an eye out for the family going forward.
“We are all human beings,” Samel said. “No matter if we are Muslims or where we are from, in the end we are human beings.”