By Dan Scanlan, The Florida Times-Union
A wooden cross was set ablaze early Sunday in front of the gated home of a local psychiatrist on the city’s Southside, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
But as police investigate the burning cross in the quiet community off Atlantic Boulevard, neighbors wonder who would do it and why.
The police information report into the incident in front of Mohamed Omar Saleh’s home in the Harbor Point subdivision only says officers responded at 10:30 a.m. Sunday to investigate an incident. But neighbors say someone in a red Dodge Ram pickup truck planted a wooden cross in front of the home at 1:30 a.m. and set it ablaze, then came back to douse it with some kind of liquid fuel to make sure it burned.
Neighbor Michelle Bedoya said her husband saw it as it burned, as did a number of others who live down the street. She checked the scene later, amazed that someone would do this anywhere.
“He saw the smoldering cross and the police,” she said. “We are just shocked to see that in our neighborhood. This is the first in my lifetime that I have ever seen anything like that.”
Officer Melissa Bujeda, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, confirmed a cross was burned at the scene and said an intelligence unit and evidence technician were assigned to the case. But it cannot be classified as a hate crime yet, she said.
“The investigation is active and they are working through it,” Bujeda said. “It is being investigated to determine exactly what crime occurred.”
Not much remained of the burnt cross in front of Saleh’s home, pieces of charred wood visible in a pile of old storm debris that lines both sides of the short brick wall in front of a white fence with the initial “S” painted on it. No one answered at the home, bought by Saleh in 1990, according to Duval County property appraiser records. Attempts to reach him at two medical offices were unsuccessful, with staff at one on Edgewood Avenue North saying he no longer worked there, while the telephone at the Center for Medicine and Wellness on San Marco Boulevard was disconnected.
Court records list Saleh’s race as black.
Florida statutes deem an incident a hate crime if there is evidence of prejudice while committing an offense. Statute 775.085 indicates that a crime can be reclassified “if the commission of such felony or misdemeanor evidences prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, mental or physical disability, or advanced age of the victim.”