The FBI announced Monday it has doubled the reward to catch whoever threw a flaming bottle of liquid through the window of the Orange County GOP headquarters a year ago.
The Molotov cocktail exploded on a couch early on Oct. 16. The fire destroyed one room before burning itself out and left the rest of the office black and smoky. A swastika and the words, “Nazi Republicans leave town or else,” were spray-painted on a nearby building at the Shops at Daniel Boone center, near Interstate 85 in Hillsborough.
The attack caused at least $10,000 in damages to the building and $5,000 in damages to furniture and equipment. It was fortunate no one was injured, GOP officials said Monday at a news conference held to mark the attack’s one-year anniversary.
“Today, we’re even stronger than we were,” said Waddy Davis, Republican Party chairman. “This is a credit to a large number of volunteers who worked unselfishly and tirelessly as a team.”
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The FBI has added $10,000 to two $5,000 rewards previously offered by the state and N.C. Republican Party. The agency Monday also shared information about a car seen traveling north on Old N.C. 86 around 2:55 a.m. Oct. 16, 2016. The car passed under the I-85 bridge before turning right into the shopping center, and then drove in the direction of the GOP office, investigators said.
Investigators also are looking into whether the attack could be connected to vandalism report in Carrboro in September 2015. The victim in that case “was an outspoken activist and may have been targeted by the same individual(s) who conducted the arson in Hillsborough,” they said.
Smoke-smudged posters, photos and other items hung Monday on the clean, white walls and lined bookshelves at the renovated office on Ja-Max Drive, which opened in March. Evelyn Poole-Kober said it still hurts to see the pictures and videos of the fire and her soot-covered hands.
“That’s about the way I looked all week, because you just couldn’t clean them,” Poole-Kober said. “Every night, I would go home and take showers, but I would still smell like smoke.”
Davis and Daniel Ashley, the former party chairman, thanked the investigators, fire responders and others who helped them get back to business.
“This day a year ago was probably one of the darkest days of my life,” Ashley said. “You look around today, it’s probably one of the best days of my life when you see all the volunteers and people who stepped forward last year after this dark day that we had.”
Support came from fellow Republicans and from Democrats at the local, state and national level, State Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes and executive director Dallas Woodhouse said Monday. One group of Democrats raised nearly $13,000 to help reopen the office.
“The Democrats raised the flag with us, as well, and as it should be,” Hayes said. “The community and the state rallied, beyond political boundaries, and said this is unacceptable. They sent money, they sent food, and that’s a tribute to what this republic has always been about and must be about in the future.”
The attack thrust Hillsborough into the national spotlight at the climax of last year’s contentious election. State and national leaders, including former Gov. Pat McCrory, Woodhouse and then-vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, toured the site and condemn the “act of political terrorism.”
The repercussions were felt statewide, Woodhouse said, as the party was forced to shut down all 100 county headquarters until they could be sure no one else was in danger. Orange County’s volunteers moved their operation into the parking lot until a temporary quarters opened a week later in a nearby storefront.
“The people who did this had no idea who may or may not have been in this building at that time, especially a couple of weeks before a major national election,” Woodhouse said.
FBI, federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, State Bureau of Investigation, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough investigators have analyzed surveillance footage from the area and other evidence, but no one has been arrested.
Durham resident Katie Yow was subpoenaed to appear in July before a grand jury at the Federal Courthouse in Greensboro. Grand jury proceedings are held in secret and allow the federal prosecutor to present evidence.
Yow, a social worker and member of the anarchist movement, vowed to fight the subpoena, which she said was connected to the Hillsborough firebombing. Her supporters rallied outside the courthouse in September.
“I have been an anarchist for nearly half my life.” Yow said. “My convictions as an anarchist inform every part of my life, and being part of the anarchist movement gives me all the strength I need to resist this subpoena.”
Davis said they have full confidence that investigators will bring those responsible to justice.
“We are making every effort we can to stimulate the memory bank of the public in general, but those people in particular who perpetrated this absolutely unacceptable act of political terrorism,” he said. “There are one or more people who know what happened and who did it.”