ABITA SPRINGS, La. — The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s office is investigating a fire that was set to a sign in Abita Springs early Friday morning. The sign was in support of local libraries that had received challenges to ban dozens of books.
“We thought burning crosses, burning books, and burning signs was a thing of the past in Louisiana, and unfortunately, this morning, we’ve learned that is not the case,” said Jamie Foster of Abita Springs.
St. Tammany District 8 firefighters caught video of the sign set ablaze. The sign sat on private property at the corner of Highway 59 and Millar Street.
A two-sided sign. One side, a memorial to the late son of Evette Randolph, and the other, which was added in February, read “Ban Hate Not Books.”
Randolph and her son had been vocal about their support of local libraries not banning books.
“My transgender son wanted to do something,” said Randolph. “So, he created the sign, painted the character, and came up with the wording and everything. And we put it up in support.”
Randolph says her family was devastated to see the sign set on fire.
“I was very upset because our transgender children are already scared about being who they are, particularly here on the North Shore,” she said. “We did this as a bold statement to stand up for his rights and his friend's rights.”
Randolph and Foster believe the burning of the sign was meant to be a hate crime.
Fire investigators with the District 8 Fire Department say that based on the circumstances surrounding the fire, it has the “potential to be a hate crime,” and because of that, it was referred to the state fire marshal’s office for further investigation.
Randolph says she’s been accused of setting the fire herself.
“The memorial sign was for my son Magnum who I lost when he was 17 years old in 2018,” said Randolph. “To be accused of burning a memorial sign along with a sign that my child created to show his strength and to stand up for his rights is just preposterous to me. I can’t imagine any parent doing that.”
Anyone with information regarding the fire is being asked to contact the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s office arson hotline at 1-844-354-1221 or the St. Tammany District 8 office at 985-892-2065.