COUNCIL BLUFFS — The day after fire scorched the home of Kevin Durham and Shelly Owens, the acrid smell of smoke permeated the air, clinging to clothes.
Authorities have ruled the fire an arson and said it is a possible hate crime. Durham, 35, is black.
In the middle of removing scorched and melted items from his home Wednesday, Durham sat down on his front porch. He said he's never felt targeted like this before.
“This is not bumping into somebody in the … supermarket,” he said.
Authorities say it's clear it was a hate crime because a racial slur was spray-painted in the living room of the house he shares with Owens, his fiancee, and her two children.
Owens is white.
Durham and Owens say they had no idea why someone would want to do this.
“I get along with everybody down here,” said Owens, 42. “I don't get it. … I feel sick.”
A neighbor said he saw three people outside the house shortly before the fire.
Council Bluffs police are continuing to investigate. There were no arrests Wednesday.
The Fire Department was called about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to the house at 2720 Ave. A. It took firefighters less than 20 minutes to get the blaze under control.
The family was not home at the time. The family pet, a bulldog named Mena, ran out of the house when firefighters kicked in the front door.
Authorities would not go into detail about how the fire began. Asked what kind of accelerant was used, interim Fire Marshal Curtis McKeon would only say the fire was “incendiary.”
Durham said his fiancee appeared to be the target because the blaze apparently originated in Owens' bedroom. On Wednesday, the room was completely gutted, and black soot coated the walls in the rest of the house.
In addition to the racial slur, a depiction of male genitalia was spray-painted on a wooden kitchen cabinet. The word “bye” was painted on the front of a flat-screen TV, possibly with primer.
The perpetrators “have impacted my entire life for nothing,” Durham said. “This will never make sense.”
Also shaking their heads were the couple's neighbors.
“This just shocked me,” said Jim Weatherill, 79, who lives next door. “We don't need that in this neighborhood.”
The single-story home was built in 1920, according to Pottawattamie County records. It was valued this year at $51,595. Authorities estimate the value of the damage to be $30,000.
Pottawattamie Attorney Matt Wilber said a felony arson charge could mean up to 25 years in prison. Designating an act as a hate crime can allow for enhanced penalties.
Despite the fire, Durham and Owens still hope to get married next year.
“This is fixable,” Durham said before getting up to continue cleaning. “You're not defeated. Just one more obstacle.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Kevin Durham.