JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police are looking into whether a fire at a gated community on the Southside was related to racially charged graffiti found on the garage of the townhouse.
Around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jacksonville Fire-Rescue responded to the fire at the Ironwood townhouse community located in the 4100 block of Crownwood Drive, just off Gate Parkway.
When Channel 4 arrived at the scene, there was visible smoke from one of the townhouses.
One person was home at the time of the fire but got out and no one was hurt, according to JFRD.
Two adjacent units were evacuated due to the fire.
Around 4:40 a.m., a crime scene van with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office arrived.
Channel 4 learned that graffiti with a racial slur was found on the garage of the townhouse that burned. JSO Officer Shannon Hartley said if that can be connected to an intentionally set fire, penalties would be increased because it would be a hate crime.
The message on the garage door was similar to one attached to a rock and thrown through a window of the same townhouse three days before, along with a small brush fire burning outside the window.
That note written on a napkin read, "You stole from the people, you (expletive). We know where you live now. Get you on the street."
Police said the two incidents may be connected.
"Any time you have types of graffiti that are going to be potentially inflammatory or intimidating to a person, you combine that with an activity like a fire and the potential is that it's very serious and we take it very seriously," JSO spokesman Shannon Hartley said.
Police said the woman who lives in the townhouse told officers she doesn't know who would do this.
Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson said it's important that detectives catch the perpetrators quickly.
"The people who do these types of crimes are looking for sensationalism, they're looking to agonize the victim, they're looking to sometimes attack the victim or assault the victim," Jefferson said. "So you have to nip it in the butt as quick as you can because it can escalate, get out of control, someone can get hurt, or God forbid, someone could get killed."
Arthur Neziri, who lives across the street from the home, said the commotion Wednesday kept him up all night.
"What's going on? It's scary," Neziri said. "I've got two kids at home, make sure they're sleeping OK, make sure they're -- everything is OK."