Barrington police investigate vandalism at gay student's home as hate crime

Barrington police are investigating the vandalism at an openly gay high school student's home late last month as a potential hate crime, village officials say.

Concern about what happened at the Nelles family house on May 31 was brought to the Barrington village board by residents and others during public comment time at the meeting Monday night. One resident said she's working with social justice and equality organizations and hopes to collaborate with the village on a panel discussion on inclusiveness.

Scott Nelles said he told police that several hundred plastic forks were placed randomly on his family's South Cook Street lawn and a for-sale sign left against a tree near the street. The sign had a toll-free suicide prevention hotline number, an obscenity and “KYS” — a known acronym for kill yourself.

Nelles said his daughter, who will be a Barrington High School junior, was harassed on social media a week earlier for being openly lesbian.

He said his family has been gratified by the outpouring support from fellow residents and the diligence of police investigators working the case. Some residents even dropped off items showing their support, including rainbow pinwheels and a heart-shaped balloon.

He said the message that was part of the vandalism was most upsetting to him and his wife, Sharon.

“Forks in the yard, that's like a prank,” said Nelles, a 21-year resident who spoke to the village board Monday night. “It sounds to me like it's today's toilet paper and, actually, probably a lot easier to clean up than toilet paper. But the fact there was a sign in the yard and it had the suicide prevention hotline and had written ‘Go (expletive) KYS,' or go kill yourself, that's a pretty clear message. And a pretty clear message of hate.”

Diane Scholten, who said she is gay and a 33-year Barrington resident, brought up the idea for the community to come together for the panel discussion on inclusiveness. She said she lives eight houses from the Nelles family and that the couple's daughter visits her Little Free Library.

“And when I heard this, I thought, ‘Oh my God,'” Scholten said. “I was in high school in 1966. I'm going to tell you being gay was a nightmare. It was a nightmare. But that little girl ... had worse things happen to her than I ever did. I mean, I can cry about that.”

All six Barrington trustees and Village President Karen Darch denounced what occurred.

“This ‘KYS' business is probably one of the most distressing things to me about this,” said Darch, who noted Barrington contended with a rash of teen suicides about 10 years ago.

Trustee Todd Sholeen addressed the Nelles family directly, saying he was bullied during elementary school and high school and has a gay brother.

“I know what your daughter is going through,” Sholeen said.

It is the second potential hate crime directed at the LGBTQ community in Barrington in recent months, said Kevin Morrison, an Elk Grove Village Democrat and the first openly gay member of the Cook County Board. The other involved the theft of a pride flag from outside a home, an incident mentioned by Gov. J.B. Pritzker during his inauguration address in January.

“We must all work to make sure these incidents do not happen to anyone in our community,” Morrison said in a statement released Monday. “As Cook County's first openly LGBTQ commissioner, this incident strikes me to my core. My heart goes out to the family affected by this incident, and to all LGBTQ individuals and allies here in Barrington and the region.”

Representatives from the offices of Morrison and U.S. Rep. Sean Casten also spoke at the meeting.

Darch said there was no update on the police investigation into the May 31 vandalism.

Barrington police documents show a report of a possible hate crime related to the theft of a rainbow flag was received at 4:45 p.m. Dec. 9 on the 1200 block of Lake Shore Drive North.

A resident told police that someone in the overnight hours entered the home's backyard and removed the flag from a pole near a private lake in the Fox Point subdivision. The resident said the rainbow flag was replaced with a U.S. flag.

Pritzker cited the theft in his January address, saying a neighbor put a pride flag in her yard in support of the couple whose flag was stolen — a gesture that led many others to fly rainbow flags in the Fox Point subdivision.

  People have dropped off tokens of support, including these rainbow pinwheels and a small balloon heart, at a Barrington home after a high school student living there was the target of vandalism now being investigated as a hate crime. Bob Susnjara/
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