Public Safety

Offer of $1,000 reward for information about hateful note

'We need to show this won't be tolerated,' Iowa City police captain says

IOWA CITY — Iowa City police are asking for the public’s help in providing information about a hateful letter taped to the house of a Sudanese-American family last weekend.

Iowa City Police Capt. Troy Kelsay said the note doesn’t appear to qualify as a hate crime under Iowa law, but would likely be harassment, a simple misdemeanor. But that doesn’t mean police aren’t taking it seriously, he said.

“We need to show this won’t be tolerated,” Kelsay said.

Iowa City Area CrimeStoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or people who left the note, according to a news release Thursday. Anyone with information about this crime is urged to contact CrimeStoppers at (319) 358-8477 or iccrimestoppers.org.

Amar Samel, a janitor at Iowa City West High School, returned to his house early Saturday 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.”

Samel called 911, but a police officer who called back declined to go to the house. Iowa City Interim Police Chief Bill Campbell has apologized for the lack of response, calling it “absolutely unacceptable.”

Police officers, including Campbell, have since talked with Samel and his wife, Muna Abdalla, and had a sit-down meeting Wednesday, Kelsay said. He is hopeful the news release generates leads about who might have placed the letter or suspicious activity in the area that night.

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Iowa City police have had other reports of perceived hostility, including rude comments, hateful social media posts and people driving around with Confederate flags, Kelsay said. “I can’t tell if it’s a spike (in activity) or if we’re hypersensitive,” he said. “I do think the election plays into it.”

Samel said earlier this week he appreciates the messages of support from friends and strangers, including many who called and sent email to The Gazette asking how they could help the family.

“Tell them we are OK. Everything will be OK,” he said in a phone interview and followed up with a text message. “We are relieved by knowing that, this is life, always there is good and bad, but the good is always more.”

Samel and Abdalla have lived in their house 11 months, helping with construction of the Habitat for Humanity home last fall. The family moved to the United States from Sudan in 2010 and became naturalized citizens in May 2015. The couple has four children, ages 8 to 16.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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