CONCORD, N.H. — The Ngendahayo family was among the first Rwandan refugee families to arrive in Concord 11 years ago, welcoming and helping assimilate those who came later. Free from the post-genocidal threats and ethnic hatred that wracked their homeland, they never even locked their doors until they awoke on a September morning in 2011 to find frightening, racist graffiti scrawled on their home.
One of the messages called the family of seven “sub-humans.”
“Go back to your hell and leave us alone,” read another.
“Having someone attack us like that, it brought back the image of Africa,” 22-year-old Ami Ngendahayo told The Associated Press last week by phone. “I admit I was afraid.”
City police on Oct. 15 arrested Raymond Stevens, a 42-year-old tattoo shop owner and a former neighbor, and charged him with targeting four immigrant families with the venomous graffiti. Police said their investigation turned up evidence that Stevens embraced the hateful rhetoric used by white supremacists.
The Ngendayahos are relieved an arrest has been made but still want to know why they were targeted and forced to move, this time leaving the New England city where they worked and their children attended school because they feared a violent attack.
“We came to America to live freely,” said 26-year-old Joli Ngendahayo. “My dad had a job. Mom had a job. We were all in school.”
Stevens is charged with felony criminal mischief, accused of using permanent marker to write hate messages on the home of the Ngendahayos and those of three other African refugee families. The arrest came after an exhaustive two-year investigation in which Det. Wade Brown examined the handwriting on thousands of police files to find a distinctive “b’’ that looked like the number 6.
Brown said he found it on a gun permit application Stevens filed when he lived in the same Concord neighborhood as the refugees. Stevens, who is free on $8,000 bond, is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 13 in Merrimack Superior Court. He faces 10 to 30 years in prison if convicted. His lawyer has declined to comment.
After seeing Stevens’ picture on news websites, Ami says she recalls seeing him walking the sidewalks of their neighborhood or near the local park where they played. His expression, she said, was always angry.
“I was afraid he could do more than just words,” Joli said.
The sisters say their brother Moses didn’t speak for days after discovering the graffiti. He thought someone was out to get him.
“He was an 11-year-old boy who’s supposed to be happy, enjoying life,” said his father, Manassee Ngendahayo. “He wouldn’t walk outside. He had no laugh, no joke.”
Family members’ reactions varied from gracious to scornful when asked what each would say to Stevens.
“Calling me sub-human, I would just call it ignorant,” Joli said. “I would disagree with him and tell him, ‘You do not know what we’ve been through.’”
The genocide in Rwanda claimed hundreds of thousands of lives during a spasm of violence in 1994.
Ami, a student at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts, said the biggest question the family has for Stevens is: “Why?”
“We were the kind of family that didn’t cause any trouble,” she said. “We’re just ordinary people who want to live life like everybody else. What was his point?”
Manassee Ngendahayo, who was a pastor at a local church in Concord, said that he can forgive Stevens but that it broke his heart to see what the graffiti did to his wife and children. It also sent the family on an odyssey through North Carolina, Massachusetts and Idaho to find a place where they felt secure and could get jobs. They finally settled in Aberdeen, Texas, where Manassee works in a group home and his wife is a housekeeper.
They still view Concord as their hometown but say it is too late and too costly to return. Paying college tuitions is the priority now.
Although pleased with Stevens’ arrest, Joli wants more.
“The only thing that would be kind of nice,” she said, “is that he actually accepts that what he did is wrong.”