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Federal officers helping in Forsyth fire investigation

FBI agent assigned to case

POSTED: January 23, 2009 12:01 a.m.

CUMMING — Authorities have not determined whether a suspicious weekend fire that destroyed the home of a Barack Obama supporter was arson.

In addition, they still are investigating graffiti someone spray-painted on a fence along the Lanier Drive property. The vandalism included a racial slur and the phrase, “your black boy will die.”

Forsyth County Fire Marshal Steve Anderson said investigators still were trying to determine the cause and origin of the Sunday morning blaze, which occurred while the owner was in Washington for the presidential inauguration.

“We’ll be in and out there for the rest of the day,” Anderson said.

He said investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would join the fire investigation at the site later on Thursday.

No suspects have been named or ruled out, according to Anderson. He said the FBI has been notified about the graffiti, and he’s waiting to hear from the agent assigned to the case.

Sheriff’s Capt. Paul Taylor, commander of the criminal investigations division, said an investigator has been assigned to the case.

“Obviously, the fire department has their fire investigation to do, and we’re looking at the aspect of the writings,” Taylor said.

He added that authorities are probing “not just the fact it was sprayed on there, but what was sprayed on there.”

The homeowner, Pam Graf, left for Washington on Friday but returned late Monday. Her three children, ages 11, 14 and 17, did not travel with her, staying instead with family over the weekend.
Graf declined to comment Thursday on the fire and investigation. She did, however, express gratitude to the community.

“The support has been incredible, and I’m just so thankful,” she said.
Anderson talked with Graf on Tuesday, but has said he can not reveal specifics of their conversation.

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office records show that Graf has been involved in at least nine incidents since September 2006. Those reports range from her home being burglarized to complaints against her of shoplifting and criminal trespassing.

In addition, she and an incarcerated ex-boyfriend have accused each other of harassing communications, sheriff’s reports show.

Anderson said Graf’s past is being taken into consideration.

“It’s something that comes into play with everybody we look at ... any type of history they might have,” he said.

Graf’s father, William Morrow, has said she removed an Obama campaign sign from her yard about a week before the fire after she received a threatening letter.

Sheriff’s records do not indicate that Graf reported either the letter or missing sign to authorities.

The fire occurred about 4:30 a.m. Sunday. The five-bedroom, nearly 3,000-square-foot home is insured, Morrow said. County tax records list the total value of the home at $255,490.

Lanier Drive winds along a heavily wooded peninsula dotted with homes that juts out into Lake Lanier.

Neighbors have said Graf’s home was for sale up until a few weeks before the fire, though that could not be confirmed.

A basketball goal, go-kart and some outdoor furniture were just a few of the items belonging to Graf and her three children that were not scorched by the flames.

The foundation and what appears to have been part of the front of the house are all that’s left of the structure.

Morrow said Graf is staying in a hotel and her children have returned to school.

Investigators with State Farm Insurance began sifting through the debris Thursday morning. They looked for evidence as they cleared the wreckage before authorities arrived.

Rodney Wilson, a claim representative, said they were there “on Ms. Graf’s behalf.”

“We’re trying to find out the origin and cause of this fire,” he said. “This is being directed by State Farm.”

Anderson said curiosity-seekers have stopped by the site every day since the fire. He said sheriff’s deputies were called out to the scene Wednesday, though it was not a major incident.

Morrow, a longtime resident of the county, and others, including the Anti-Defamation League and local Democratic Party, have said the incident doesn’t represent the community.

Despite its strong Republican leanings, Forsyth County is home to many Obama supporters. The president received about 20.4 percent of the county’s vote in the Nov. 4 presidential election.



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