CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire detective combed through hundreds of gun permit applications to find one with a distinctive lowercase "b'' that led to an arrest in a 2-year-old racist graffiti case, police said Tuesday.
Concord police said Raymond Stevens, 42, used a permanent black marker to deface the homes of three African refugee families in September 2011. On one home was scrawled, "The subhumans in this house are enjoying a free ride." On another, "Go back to your hell and leave us alone."
Stevens wrote graffiti on a fourth house in the same south Concord neighborhood a year later, according to police. One of the phrases written on that home was, "We cannot coexist with Third World scum."
Honore Murenzi, director of the community group "New American Africans," said one family targeted in the 2011 incidents moved away in fear soon after discovering the graffiti on their home. The other three families are "very excited" about the arrests, he said.
"The level of uncertainty no longer exists," said Murenzi, who said the families, two each from Somalia and Congo, feared a violent attack would follow the graffiti.
The big break in the case came after a detective combed through thousands of pages of documents hoping to match the writing on the vandalized homes to someone who had contact with police.
Det. Wade Brown looked through more than 1,000 criminal files and complaints generated from the city's South End between 2009-11 looking for any handwritten documents featuring the distinctive lowercase letter "b'' written like the number six, along with other distinctive letters and unusual word choices used in the graffiti.
When that search came up empty, he turned to more than 1,500 gun permit applications on file with the Concord police department. In Sept. 2012 he found an application filed by Stevens, who once lived in the neighborhood targeted in the graffiti incidents.
"Three telltale "b's" appeared to be an exact match to the racist messages," Brown wrote. He said the handwriting similarities were "so striking" that he focused on that application and the man who submitted it.
Searches of Stevens' home, car and the tattoo parlor he owns in Nashua turned up more handwriting samples that were sent to the FBI for analysis. Police also found racist cartoons and writings on his Facebook pages that "were clearly indicative of a white supremacist ideology," according to a police affidavit.
When questioned by police about the racist graffiti, Stevens told them it was "too extreme" for him and denied any involvement.
Stevens was arrested Tuesday and charged with felony criminal mischief. He faces a stiffer penalty of 10-30 years in prison because police say the crime was motivated "by hostility toward the victims' race and national origin."
He was arraigned Tuesday and jailed on $8,000 bail. His public defender, Melinda Siranian, and his wife declined to comment as they left court. Siranian argued for no bail, saying he has no criminal record.
Concord Police Chief John Duval said the crimes were "truly despicable" and noted that all the homes targeted had small children living in them. He called the investigation "a classic case of leaving no rock unturned."
"The nature of these crimes is so deplorable, it didn't matter how much time was spent," the chief said. "Concord's a great city. Being rocked at its foundation by something hateful is not going to be tolerated."
Stevens is scheduled to return to court Oct. 24.