Amar Samel and his wife, Muna Abdalla, moved their family to Iowa from Sudan in 2010.
Five years later, the couple and their four children became naturalized citizens and moved into a house in Iowa City.
It only took 14 handwritten words — delivered last week on a sheet of paper taped to their front door — to shatter their peace and make the Muslim family wonder how well they know the country they now call home.
“You can all go home now. We don’t want (a racial epithet) and terrorists here. #Trump,” the note said.
Samel, a night custodian at an Iowa City high school, told the Gazette he discovered the note just after midnight Friday after returning home from a family gathering to mourn the death of his father.
“I did not believe what I was seeing,” he told the paper. “I live in a peaceful city, a liberal city that is accepting of diversity.”
“It’s scary, too,” Abdalla added.
Abdalla told the Gazette she was home with her children, who range from ages 8 to 16, when the note appeared. She said she thinks the sheet of paper was placed on the door after she turned off the lights, allowing the perpetrator remain cloaked in darkness.
The incident, which is under investigation, appears to be part of a nationwide wave of racially motivated acts of intimidation, violence and harassment that have swept the country in the days after Donald Trump was elected president.
Samel told the paper he believes the note left at his home started on the campaign trail.
“This is a consequence of what their leader said before the election,” he said, referring to Trump’s rhetoric.
At least three organizations have documented the rise in graffiti, slurs and threats directed at minority groups over the past week. At a California Veterans Day parade, people showed up with three Confederate flags. Muslim Americans have received death threats and black freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania were the target of slurs and a “daily lynching calendar.”
Asked by “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl whether he was aware of such incidents, Trump said he was not.
“I am very surprised to hear that,” he said. “I hate to hear that, I mean I hate to hear that.”
When pressed, Trump said he may have seen one or two instances.
“Do you want to say anything to those people?” Stahl asked.
“I would say don’t do it, that’s terrible, ’cause I’m gonna bring this country together,” Trump said.
“They’re harassing Latinos, Muslims,” Stahl added.
“I am so saddened to hear that. And I say: Stop it,” Trump told her. “If it, if it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.”
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) November 14, 2016
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said a spike in incidents targeting Muslims and other minorities became noticeable last year as Trump’s campaign gained momentum nationally. The organization is calling upon national leaders, including Trump, to repudiate “growing Islamophobia.”
“Because this is just the latest in a growing number of postelection hate incidents targeting American Muslims and other minority groups, we urge the FBI to add its resources to the investigation,” CAIR-Iowa Executive Director Miriam Amer said.
“Hate crimes against Muslims spiked last year to their highest level in more than a decade — an increase that experts and advocates say was fueled by anger over terrorist attacks and anti-Islam rhetoric on the campaign trail.”
“Law enforcement agencies across the country reported 257 anti-Muslim incidents in 2015, up nearly 67 percent from the year before, according to FBI data released Monday.”
“The last time the FBI recorded more than 160 anti-Muslim incidents was in 2001, when it reported 481. That was the year that Islamist militants attacked the World Trade Center, killing thousands and sparking a wave of anti-Muslim incidents.”
After discovering the sheet of paper, Samel told the Gazette that he avoided touching it and called police. When a police officer called the family a few minutes later, Samuel told the paper, he said he explained to the investigator that he had no idea who may have left the note. Samel told the paper that the officer’s reaction surprised him.
“He said, ‘Take it (the note) down and throw it away,” Samel said. “There’s really nothing I can do.’”
Interim Iowa City police chief Bill Campbell told the Gazette this week that his officer’s response was “absolutely unacceptable.” He noted that the letter could’ve contained fingerprint and handwriting evidence that could’ve been destroyed.
“A phone call was by no means sufficient,” Campbell said. “These are things that are sensitive and cause fear. I would certainly understand if there was a delay, but I would still expect us to respond to the residence.”
“If we had responded to the scene, we would have had the opportunity to have that note handled less,” he added.
ABC affiliate KCRG-TV reported that police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
— Stephen Mally (@stephenmally) November 15, 2016
The station also reported that since news about the hateful note began to spread, Iowa City residents have stopped by the family’s home to deliver baked good and leave more handwritten messages — this time expressing love instead of hate.
“I was truly disgusted by that action,” Julie Eisele, an Iowa City resident, told the Gazette.
Despite not knowing the family personally, she decided to bring them flowers after hearing about the note earlier this week
“You hear about these things happening, but you don’t really know if it’s true,” she added. “When I heard people say this was their neighbor, it really hit home.”
Samel told KCRG-TV that the healing process has begun and the outpouring of local support has helped his family feel like members of the community once again.
“Whatever happens will not frighten me because I have nowhere to go,” he said.
He added: “This is my country. This is my community. This is where I belong.”