Nothing of the body, or even the face. When Beverly Rowe imagines who burned down her new house at the Hunters Brooke development in Charles County, she sees two eyeholes cut from a white hood.
She created this memory, and now it won't leave. At the dinner table in her temporary home, a bare-walled, two-bedroom apartment in Waldorf she refers to as "the hotel," she closed her brown eyes, thinking back.
"I felt in my heart that it was racially motivated, that it was done by a Klan-type person. Now all I can see is just the two little eyes. That's the image I'm getting," she said. "It's a remembrance for me of what hate really looks like."
The suspects are five young white men from Southern Maryland. One was a security guard at the development, another a volunteer firefighter. The men have not been charged with hate crimes, and prosecutors say there could have been more than one motive, including an attempt to glorify their car club.
But Jeremy D. Parady, the volunteer firefighter who pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit arson, has said he chose to burn down Hunters Brooke in Indian Head because many of the people moving there were black -- people like Beverly and Everton Rowe.
The Rowes are among more than a dozen families displaced by the fires set six months ago. While many of the damaged houses have been repaired, most of the 12 houses destroyed have yet to be rebuilt.
These families take heart that no one was physically injured when arsonists torched more than two dozen empty houses on the forested frontier of suburban Maryland. Yet some of the displaced families say they are hurt: exhausted, depressed, exasperated by living amid cardboard boxes, ready to move on, waiting on construction, worried about their safety, hoping to be left alone, scared that their race might not allow that.
"Hunters Brooke will never be the same," Beverly Rowe said.
"Charles County," her husband said, "will never be the same."
On the morning of Dec. 6, Beverly Rowe, a social worker with the D.C. Department of Mental Health, was visiting a client's home in the District when her cell phone rang. Five months earlier, she and her husband had sold their home in Montgomery County and were staying with relatives, waiting for the January move-in date. The brick facade and rose-colored vinyl siding had been completed on their four-bedroom, $500,000 house, and the cabinets were to be installed that week.
"You need to sit down," Everton Rowe, 37, an engineer who builds embassies for the State Department, told his wife.
In a panic, they drove to the scene. That afternoon, cordoned off on the shoulder of Route 225 with other distraught homeowners, Everton Rowe was thinking about his 13-year-old daughter, Netelege.
"This is going to put pain in my daughter's little heart," he said as the smoke still rose from embers. "She's not going to want to stay here."
The fire started in the foyer and whooshed up the stairwell and into the master bedroom. Their house stood amid the most intense swath of destruction; their house and three adjacent ones had to be razed.
"I was a basket case," recalled Beverly Rowe, who took off work and soon succumbed to a bleak anxiety she described as a month-long bout of clinical depression. The gregarious woman from Jamaica with a rolling laugh and ironic wit became withdrawn. She cried at times and slept only fitfully. She bought no Christmas gifts. At the time, she was teaching an anger management class to elementary school students. She revised the lesson plan.
"I realized just counting to 10 wasn't too realistic," she said.
For three months, as other houses in the neighborhood were repaired, the Rowes said theirs was untouched. The frustration turned to anger when work on a new phase of the neighborhood began before their repairs started. The Rowes said the builder has promised that they can move in by July, but the couple are skeptical.
Lennar Corp., the developer, has said the rebuilding of the damaged houses is on schedule.
In the apartment, which they moved into on Christmas Day, their lives hang in abeyance. On a recent evening, a table leaned against a wall, still in its cover. Bulk containers of mango juice and soda were scattered across the kitchen. For most meals, the three eat off paper plates and drink from plastic cups. Unpacking would be too emotional, Beverly Rowe said. They don't want to make their "hotel" a home.
So in Netelege's room, a mattress propped vertically divides the living space from a precarious tower of clothes and boxes. Nearly every night, they drive to Hunters Brooke to watch their house slowly take shape. Beverly Rowe has developed friendships with other families waiting to move in. Sometimes no one else can relate.
"I think we're just tired. We're drained. It's taken so long. You know, enough already," she said. "We're tired of being disappointed. We're tired of looking at boxes."
The Rowes were floored when police arrested Aaron L. Speed, the neighborhood's security guard, in December. Beverly Rowe ran back and forth in front of the television, screaming. "What are you talking about?" she remembered thinking. "It can't be. It just did not make sense."
Parady's admission of a racial motive was also a psychological blow. Middle-class black families, many moving from the inner suburbs or the District, have remade the face of Charles in the past fifteen years. This outward migration of blacks has helped transform an agrarian outpost to a bustling suburb.
In Hunters Brooke, several residents would speak about race only on condition of anonymity because they were afraid of being targeted. One woman, who enjoyed driving the secluded highways through the woods along the Potomac, said she would no longer travel these roads. The crime changed her views about the county and her safety.
"I never really thought race would play a part in this. I didn't see any signs of racial issues or prejudice," she said. "I couldn't believe that there were angry white people here. It puts you in the mind-set that you could be lynched."
Another woman said the crime only reinforced her impression of race relations in Charles, where as recently as 1994 the Ku Klux Klan rallied on the courthouse steps. Not long ago, the woman got in a car accident with a white woman in a Waldorf parking lot. She said the white woman started shouting:
"Yeah, I hit you, [racial epithet.] I hate [racial epithet]. I hit you because you're a [racial epithet]."
For the Rowes, entering a racial drama so steeped in the history of the United States has been somewhat unnatural.
"It's not like this in Jamaica. Blacks are the majority. It doesn't make a difference. It's not your color," Everton Rowe said. "It's" -- he rubs his fingers together, making the money sign. "That's what makes a difference."
"America will not be better until my daughter's kids are grown," he said.
Beverly Rowe believes the crime is not representative of the community. "I absolutely, unconditionally refuse to stereotype people because this happened."
Still, she is alert. The back of their new house faces a swath of woods. They plan to install an infrared surveillance camera that can detect intruders at night. When the house is finished, and they have moved in, everyone will feel better, Beverly said.
She wants to host a party for the neighbors, and she has already got the idea: a smokeless barbecue. On a recent tour of her house, she said her spirits have been bolstered as the walls have risen: "I'm definitely in a better place now," she said. "We'll be okay."
A neighbor, Kendall Walker, who was jogging past the house, suddenly bounded upstairs to say a quick hello. Beverly Rowe was turned the other way.
"Hey, there," Walker said loudly, and she flinched.
"Oh, my God!" she said. "You scared me to death."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.