‘This was a hate crime’: An interracial family could be left homeless as authorities continue to search for the cause of a fire that gutted their home last year. | Jobs Recent

Editor’s Note: In this series finale of “This Is Life with Lisa Ling,” the show profiles different races. The series airs this Sunday at 10 pm ET.


A year after his Tennessee home was burned down and racist spray-painted on his property, Alan Mays says he’s still pleading with authorities to respond to what he’s calling a hate crime.

Officials are actively investigating the cause of the fire that destroyed the family’s seven-bedroom home in Ripley last November, but Mays says she is desperate as her family faces homelessness. “We were never given any kind of cover,” an Iraq war veteran told CNN.

Mays, who is Black, says authorities are treating the fire as an accident despite reports of abuse for his multiracial family. From repeated break-ins to security camera footage of people shouting racial slurs at their home, Mays says her family has been targeted for years.

If he was white, this would have been resolved in 2015 when he says the harassment started, Mays said. “They did not follow anyone. They didn’t try. They didn’t want me to come out,” said Mays.

The fire happened early in the morning on November 1, 2021, the Mays family had gone on vacation. Firefighters arrived at the home because their fire alarm was going off and a neighbor had called to say she could see flames from the house, according to an incident report from the Ripley Fire Department.

The report also states that there was no water tank nearby, so water had to be shut off from other county departments, although Mays says there is a fire hydrant at the end of his street.

The house was a “total loss,” the report said. It also says that “graffiti” was painted on the wall above their pool.

Mays says the graffiti was a spray-painted racial slur: “n***er lover.” When the fire chief told her about the loss of her home and the scandal, Mays said she couldn’t help but cry.

The Ripley Police Department and the Ripley Fire Department both did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Tennessee law prohibits an incident that is considered a hate crime until authorities identify the suspect, which the law has not yet done. As a result, the case is currently pending as a “suspected fire.”

“We have very little to release as our investigation into this incident is still active and ongoing,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told CNN in an emailed statement.

The last time Mays spoke with the office was in April, he said, and he has yet to receive any information.

“To this day, they haven’t told us anything about what happened in our house,” said Mays. “They told us that no one is suspicious. They didn’t tell us anything.”

When the scene investigation office started last November, they didn’t want to investigate paint-spraying, and instead wanted to look only at the source of the fire, Mays said.

But that doesn’t make sense to him, he said. For Mays, the slur is more than graffiti – it’s a word to leave and never come back; it is a hate speech.

Interracial marriage has seen a steady increase in the United States since 1967 when the Supreme Court struck down anti-segregation laws, and according to Gallup, most American adults now approve of marriage between blacks and whites.

But other studies show that the level of disapproval regarding race relations is insignificant. It’s no secret that interracial couples still face discrimination and hostility from others, sometimes leading to violence.

Mays, whose Army career ended with an honorable discharge after being wounded by a rocket in 2009, told CNN the move last year was the hardest thing he had ever experienced.

His entire family was left devastated by the fire, says Mays. His children are confused and often have nightmares. His wife cries frequently and takes medication for chronic anxiety, and both have been receiving treatment through benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Since the fire took over their home, Mays said he and his family have been living in an apartment in south Nashville. But they said they will be homeless next week because their insurance company won’t pay for their house.

“So what will I do? I’m in shock. I didn’t sleep for two nights, well, because I don’t know what to do,” Mays told CNN. “I’m lost … I did everything I could do. I did everything the right way.”

Reports indicate that firefighters tried to put out the fire.  Other units were called in from nearby towns.  But Alan and Kirsten's house was completely covered.

Mays married his wife, who is White, in 2012 in Germany. They moved to Ripley, a small town about 60 kilometers from Memphis, in 2015.

Affectionately known as the “welcoming city,” Mays initially appreciated the God-fearing nature of this community.

“They have their Bibles; they go to church. “It looked like a place you would want to have your family,” said Mays.

Although Ripley’s population is about 40 percent White and more than 54 percent Black, according to the US Census Bureau, Mays said he was the only Black man living in a predominantly white neighborhood.

After the fire, none of her neighbors offered her family help — or even comfort, she told CNN.

Mays said this reinforced the pattern of strange experiences her family has experienced since moving to the area. They had to deal with strangers parking down their driveway at night and taking pictures of them, poisoning their dogs, breaking into their garage, drones flying over their house and other disturbing issues, Mays says.

His burglar alarm went off 37 times between 2020 and 2021, and he kept 20 of the police reports he filed regarding these alarming incidents, he said.

“It was always happening at my house,” Mays said. “And I told my wife after they tried to poison our dogs, ‘Listen, that’s how they do it in the South. They damage your cars, and your livestock.’”

“I said, ‘something’ happens here, and it’s not good,’ he added.

Their security cameras have captured numerous videos of people surrounding their home and sometimes shouting racist abuse, according to Mays. They even captured images of a person standing inside Mays’ sleep, he said. But authorities can’t identify anyone, Mays said.

Mays had to buy six security cameras over the course of a year and a half because he was constantly harassed, he added. On the night of the fire, he had not yet replaced the last set of damaged cameras.

Kirsten Mays, Alan’s wife, said she no longer wants to live in the United States after what happened to her family. Coming from Germany, he said he expected more from law enforcement in this country.

When she and her husband went to the police station after an incident where someone broke into their home, she said that the extent of their help was to tell them to change their locks and get better cameras.

“It is impossible that people are living like this and treating you like this, and no one does anything to protect you,” he said.

In addition to the community’s apparent indifference and the authorities’ perceived inaction, Mays told CNN that she had been having trouble with her insurance company.

He filed homeowner’s insurance with Tennessee Farm Bureau Insurance after his house burned down. He complained to them on September 21 for taking so long to give him a decision. They ended up sending him two identical rejection letters on October 3 and October 13 – almost a year after Mays filed.

The October 3 denial concluded that the Mays family may have conspired to start the fire themselves and that Mays did not inform them of the pending charge against him for an unpaid credit card. The October 13 denial also means that Mays didn’t report the company’s 2001 bad check-passing charge — which was dismissed by a judge years ago, according to court filings.

“We gave the insurance company all the information they asked for,” Mays said. “We did the whole interview.”

In the hotel room where his family was living out of suitcases, Alan Mays said:

But despite these letters, Mays received a letter on November 4 that his request was not completely rejected, which only confuses him. He has exhausted all the different answers.

A spokesperson for Tennessee Farm Bureau Insurance told CNN in an email statement, “Please understand that Tennessee Farmers Insurance Company takes every fire case very seriously, and the investigation of these claims often involves multiple investigations. We cannot comment on specific investigations, complaints, or litigation.”

Amidst the crisis last year, Mays’ brother created a GoFundMe to help rebuild their lives.

Whether it’s Mays’ former neighbors, Ripley’s fire and police departments, his insurance company, or even government investigators, Mays feels like a failure after failing to protect his family and get justice.

The social movements meant to protect them have collapsed, said Mays.

“We believed in the system,” Mays said. “I fought for this plan. And when the time came for this system to come and help us, they did nothing but make it difficult for us. ”

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