In Anthony Hudson's nine years living in Bowie with his wife and children, not once has someone made the family feel unwelcome, he said yesterday.
"It's a very diverse neighborhood," said Hudson, who is African American. "Nothing like this has ever happened in our neighborhood, not since we've been here."
But Tuesday night, someone painted racial slurs on the side of his brick house, in the 3100 block of Belair Drive, including "KKK" and a crudely drawn swastika. Prince George's County police are investigating the case as a hate crime.
"It seemed targeted at us because of what was painted, but I just don't know," Hudson said.
When police officers arrived at Hudson's house about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, one of them told him that similar vandalism had occurred that evening in the same area, between Annapolis Road and Laurel-Bowie Road. In those cases, racial epithets and symbols were painted in the same colors, black and red, on nine vehicles, including a marked Prince George's police car. None of the other victims was African American, police said.
"We're treating the incidents as if they were committed by the same person," said Cpl. Joe Merkel, a police spokesman. "It appears that way. But we don't yet know who did it or why, whether they knew the victims or not. It's a wide-open case right now."
Investigators returned to the neighborhood yesterday to question residents about what they might have seen Tuesday night. Police said the incidents probably occurred between 7 and 10 p.m.
Hudson said he was eating supper in the dining room with his family about 7:30 but did not hear anything unusual outside his house, which sits on a corner. Not until a neighbor knocked on his door about 10 p.m. did he realize something had happened.
"My neighbor came home from work late, and he backed his car into his driveway so his front lights faced my house. He noticed it first and came right over," said Hudson, an associate pastor at New Home Baptist Church in Landover. "I just couldn't believe it."
One of Hudson's neighbors said yesterday that she was startled by the crime, the first that she could remember in her five years in the neighborhood.
"It's just a very quiet, nice area, where nothing like this has happened," said Lydia Fitzmaurice, 31, who is white. She stood in the foyer of her house, her four children around her, and added, "The Hudsons are a really wonderful family, and it's shocking to see this happen to them."
Hudson said he hurried to a store late Tuesday to buy blue paint to cover the graffiti. He said he did not want his children to see it, though he told them about it Wednesday after school.
"We essentially told them that someone had written bad things on our house but that the police came. Then they were more interested in what the police officers were wearing," Hudson said, smiling. "I just want to bring exposure to this because I don't want it to happen to anyone else. I'm a forgiving person, but I want the people to be caught."