Students run into white supremacist, car damaged at local fast food chain

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The last thing freshman Eric Wilson expected to see after a strange encounter with a tattooed man in a local McDonald's over Winter Term was the shattered rear window of his car.

Wilson and freshman friends Tyler Bussian and Michael Pagan, were eating breakfast at the local McDonalds on Monday, Jan. 23, when a man Wilson described as Caucasian, about 5 foot, 11 inches with dark hair, full beard and wearing a black sleeveless shirt, entered the restaurant and began staring at the three.

Bussian was the first to notice his tattoos.

"I was shocked that no one else seemed surprised about the tattoos, especially since they were so blatantly obvious," Bussian said.

According to Wilson, the man's left arm featured "KKK" stamped on the bicep with "white pride" and a swastika above it, as well as several "SS" tattoos.

But Wilson said the first thing he noticed was that the man was wearing a sleeveless shirt as the weather dipped below freezing outside.

The tattooed man sat down with a woman and child behind the three freshmen.

It wasn't until Wilson, Bussian and Pagan had finished their meal and Wilson used his automatic starter to start his car from inside the restaurant that he noticed the rear window was broken.

The three friends went outside to confirm that the shattered window was from Wilson's car, and after moments of shock and disbelief, Wilson called family members and began taking photographs of the damage, while Bussian and Pagan called the authorities.

When the police arrived, Wilson suggested he was the victim of a hate crime because he and Pagan were African-American. He also identified the tattooed man who was still inside the McDonald's restaurant.

Wilson told the responding officers that the man could be a suspect but did not see them question him.

"They didn't have any substantial evidence," Bussian said. "There was nothing they could do."

Neither Public Safety nor Greencastle Police Department officers found anyone that had witnessed the incident and none of the 16 security cameras in the restaurant and around the parking lot had a view of Wilson's car.

The tattooed man also never left the McDonald's while the three freshmen were eating.

In an email to The DePauw, Director of Public Safety Angela Nally said that due to a lack of evidence "it is undetermined at this time how the window got broken, who was responsible and if it was intentionally broken."

Wilson was more direct in his speculation on the incident.

"I think it's foul play," Wilson said. "Either the whole neighborhood is afraid or doesn't care. If you have 16 cameras on your premises but you still have a blind spot, your whole establishment makeup is pretty faulty."

A deputy with the the Greencastle Police Department said blind spots in camera footage are not a frequent issue in investigations.

"Because McDonald's is private property, the amount of surveillance they wish to use on their premises is up to them," he said.

Although they couldn't didn't find any evidence to link a possible suspect to the crime, Public Safety, university administrators and students all reached out to Wilson to make sure he was safe and emotionally well.

"Regardless of what investigators are able to determine about the car window in this specific case, it's important that our students know they are supported when they have concerns," Nally said in the email. "DePauw is a supportive and safe environment for all members of our community."

Several university alumni even contacted Wilson, advising him on how to utilize on-campus resources to handle the situation, and some students reposted statuses on Facebook to make others aware of the incident.

"It became bigger than me and it wasn't just about my incident anymore," Wilson said. "I guess it was kind of like my incident was on the forefront, because it was one of the biggest acts of possible hate crime recently."

A deputy with the Greencastle Police Department said hate crimes do not frequently occur in the area.

Wilson said after his sophomore friends Thay Brown, Terrell Moore and Bryant Alexander heard about the incident, they decided to raise awareness of hate crimes in the DePauw and Greencastle communities. To show their support for Wilson, they are organizing a peaceful march around campus to protest all forms of harassment.

Still, Pagan wasn't satisfied with the community's response to the incident.

"As Greencastle is such a small town community, I was surprised at how little help was offered and the fact that no one showed any concern," Pagan said.

Although Wilson says he has recuperated emotionally, he has struggled to secure financial compensation for his damaged car. He was forced to forgo a trip home to purchase new car windows, which cost him almost $300.

Still, Wilson says the cost of his car windows wasn't his biggest loss. He says his trust in the Greencastle community is something that he will never gain back.

"This incident didn't change my view of the whole town of Greencastle," Pagan said. "It really just opened my eyes to the fact that racism is still around. It's upsetting to see that there are still so many people out there that are so close-minded."

Quick Facts: Ku Klux Klan

 

  • The Ku Klux Klan, commonly abbreviated as the KKK, is an extremist group advocating white supremacy, white nationalism and anti-immigration.
  • The Klan was founded in 1865 in Pulaski, Tenn. by a group of Confederate veterans. The group is historically known for their garb of white robes and conical shaped hats, lynching and cross burning. 
  • According to reports from the Anti-Defamation League, KKK activity began to increase nationally in 2006. Ku Klux Klan groups grew significantly more active, holding more rallies, distributing leaflets and increasing their presence on the Internet.
  • There is an official Ku Klux Klan website, www.kkk.com, where you can fill out an application to join the group.
  • According to a 2007 article published in The Gainesville Sun, "Between 2000 and 2005, hate groups mushroomed 33 percent and Klan chapters by 63 percent, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes."
  • At one time, a sect of the Ku Klux Klan was headquartered in Martinsville, Ind., roughly 40 miles from Greencastle.