A house explosion in Sterling in Wayne County is being investigated as a potential hate crime due to a racial slur and swastika found spray painted on an unattached two-car garage.
No one was injured in the explosion, which happened at about 12:50 a.m. Aug. 8, according to Capt. Doug Hunter of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. Sterling is an unincorporated community in Wayne County, 15 miles north of Wooster and about 50 miles south of Cleveland.
The couple who owns the house, Brad and Angela Frase, have lived in the home for 23 years, but were not living in the house when the explosion happened. They were staying in a nearby hotel due to an electrical fire at the house in early July. On Aug. 5, the Sterling Fire District went to the home after workers smelled natural gas after someone left the stove on.
“The Sterling Fire District was first called to the residence on Monday (Aug. 5) after an unknown suspect(s) unsuccessfully attempted to ignite the home by filling it with natural gas and turning the stove burner on,” said Sterling Fire Chief Josh Glessner in a statement posted to the department’s Facebook page. “However, the gas and electric utilities had previously been disconnected.”
Angela Frase is black and Brad Frase is white, though it is unclear if either of them identify as Jewish. The racial epitaph spray-painted, which was misspelled, appeared to be aimed at Angela Frase.
Hunter said the incident is unusual for the Sterling area and the sheriff’s department is investigating the explosion as a possible arson, in addition to being a potential hate crime. He said it is a joint investigation between his department, the Ohio State Fire Marshal, the FBI and Ohio State Highway Patrol. He said the investigation is ongoing and he did not have a timetable for when he expected it to be completed.
“Our goal is to get to the truth of the matter,” said Hunter. “It would be improper to place a timeline on those who are doing the investigation.”
He said the goal of the investigation is to find the person or persons responsible.
“We do not want any Wayne County residents to feel that they’re unwelcome or unsafe,” Hunter said. “That’s the motive behind our entire investigation.”
Beth Friedman-Romell, a Shaker Heights resident who serves as a part-time cantor and spiritual director for Knesseth Israel Temple in Wooster, said she has not had any congregants from the synagogue, which is about 20 minutes from Sterling, express concerns to her regarding the explosion and swastika, though she said some have expressed concerns over the general rise of hate crimes and anti-Semitism in the country.
“In general, of course, everybody is concerned and sad and angry about the increased number of hate crimes that seem to be happening in our country,” she said, adding that the synagogue did receive a number of phone calls and messages from neighbors following the killings at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh in 2018. “ There’s been a Jewish congregation in Wooster for well over 100 years. For the most part, we have gotten along very well with our neighbors in Wooster. Certainly there are incidents where we encounter anti-Semitsim, I think that is true in every community, everywhere, sadly. ... It’s encouraging to know that many people in the general community are not behind white supremacy. But there are white supremacists in Wayne County and in every town ... that’s the most painful thing and my heart definitely goes out to those people in Sterling who have been part of the community for a long time and had this terrible thing happen.”