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Fire in San Francisco's Alamo Square was at home of man targeted by racist threats

Investigation underway into fire at home of San Francisco man who has been target of racist threats
Investigation underway into fire at home of San Francisco man who has been target of racist threats 04:28

A mysterious fire gutted the home of a well-known San Francisco dog walker and resulted in his parents needing to be taken to the hospital. 

Terry Williams had recently been in the news when he became the target of racist threats sent in the mail. Police are investigating them as hate crimes.

It is not clear whether that has any connection to Tuesday's fire, and officials are still looking into what caused flames to break out just after 11:30 a.m. on Grove Street, a block from Alamo Square. 

When Terry Williams arrived at his house flames were shooting out of the window. His elderly parents were still inside. 

"My dad said, 'Get your mom," Williams recalled. "So, I got to the first floor, and they said, 'We are getting out; we are getting her out.'" 

Williams is a dog walker in the community and owns three dogs who made it out of the burning home.

"My girl dog is my mom's favorite and was trying to get in the house to get to my mom," said Williams. 

He was shaken by the damage that the fire caused to the home and its contents.

"I just lost everything. All my memories. All when I was a little kid, jumping off the walls doing stuff," said Williams. "It's gone. It's just burnt away; just taken away from me."

When the fire broke out, Williams was at a San Francisco City Hall meeting with local officials to discuss the prior hate crimes. The most recent incident involved a doll with a noose being delivered to his front door with threatening messages pasted all over the body.

Authorities have not yet identified a suspect in those cases. He said his life has been like a roller coaster with the hate crimes.

"I don't feel no security. In a way, it's like they won the round. They won five rounds now," Williams said. "Now I'm trying to fight back. It's rough, but I'm not quitting. It makes me want to fight harder. I don't know how I'm going to finish, but I'm going to fight harder."   

Williams' parents were treated by paramedics at the scene and taken to a hospital with injuries. His mom was seriously hurt and remained in the hospital Wednesday. His father was treated and is expected to be okay.

Since all of this has happened neighbors have rallied behind them. In fact, their next-door neighbor has a sign in the window condemning racism.

Lori Santori has lived in the neighborhood for 22 years and said Williams is a fixture in the community. 

"It sucks what they have been going through," she said. "They are really, really kind people, and nobody deserves this. Especially not this family."

Lee Stafford is Williams's best friend and told CBS News Bay Area he prays the fire is not related to the hate crimes. 

"If this is a hate crime, I have trouble processing it," he said. "I pray that that's not what is going on here and they are unrelated. If God forbid it is related to the threats he has received over the last several weeks and month, then we need all the help we can get." 

Reverand Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP, has been helping Williams. He showed up to the fire scene Tuesday.

"This should be treated as a state of emergency and all hands should be on deck to bring this to a screeching halt," Brown said.

Displaced and on high alert, Williams said he didn't know where he would sleep Tuesday night, feeling torn between keeping his family and home safe.

"My dogs will keep me warm. It's my house. what else am I supposed to do?" asked Williams. "I gotta protect my stuff. It's to the point it's just too much now. My sanity is really on the line." 

According to the San Francisco Fire Department, San Francisco police were called to the scene because fire investigators found an item that needed to be "rendered safe." Police said they were not releasing any information related to the item.

However, the fire department said the item was not related to the fire or fire investigation. 

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