Bottle bombs tossed at immigrant sign

Two bottles that resembled explosive devices were found in the yard of 8500 Liberty St. in Manassas on Thursday by the owner of the property.

Gaudencio Fernandez, who owns the property with his wife, was cleaning up the trash from his partially demolished home when his son discovered what appeared to be a beer bottle with a partially burned rag sticking out of it. A further search uncovered another larger bottle without a cloth.

The first bottle fits the description of a Molotov cocktail. According to Wikipedia, in its simplest form a Molotov cocktail is a glass bottle containing gasoline fuel with a fuse consisting of a fuel soaked rag held in place by the bottle’s stopper. In action, the fuse is lit and the bottle hurled at a target.

Fernandez called the Manassas police department after discovering the item and referred the case to the city’s office of the fire marshal. Representatives from the fire marshal’s office investigated the scene and will be sending the bottles to the crime lab for further analysis.

Chief Fire Marshal Francis J. Teevan said the department has no suspects yet and the lab investigation could take up to several months to finish.

The house at 8500 Liberty St. has been the subject for controversy for months. Fernandez had obtained a permit this spring to demolish the structure after a fire last year and what he claims was a subsequent discovery of many years of insect damage.

In late March, the house was inspected by the city’s zoning administrator, an engineer from SuperStructures Inc. and the city’s building inspector, the latter two determining that the structure was unsalvageable. A building inspection in the same month as the fire determined that the house didn’t constitute an immediate concern for life, safety or adjoining properties.

But by late March, the damage to the house had become severe enough to apply Section 130-548 of the city’s building code which states: “nothing in this division (Historic Overlay District) shall prevent the demolition of any building or structure which is in such an unsafe condition that it would endanger life or property, and protection from such condition is provided for in the building code and/or other applicable city ordinances.”

After discussions with community members in the Liberty Street area on the future of the house, Fernandez started the demolition process around Sept. 8. But before the demolition was finished, members of the local Hispanic community convinced Fernandez to let them place a large cloth sign on the remnants of his house in order to protest the recent anti-illegal immigration resolution passed by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. The sign also touted the accomplishments of the Hispanic community in the United States.

The sign was reviewed by the city and ruled political in nature, which isn’t subject to permits according to the city code. But according to Fernandez, there have been two attempts to destroy the sign and each time, the sign was fixed. He also discovered several posters on his property with anti-Hispanic messages. One message, written on posterboard, said “Your Lucky To be Here.” Another said “Go back, Speak English, This is Not Mexico.” The latter sign also contained an expletive as well as a sexually suggestive picture degrading Mexicans.

Fernandez came to the United States in 1979 from Mexico and said this year has been the worse when it comes to anti-Hispanic sentiments. Fernandez, a legal resident for more than a decade, said he believes both illegal and legal residents are being targeted as a consequence of the recent resolution passed by the county.

Mexicanos Sin Fronteras spokesperson Ricardo Juarez Nava was on hand Friday to survey the scene at the property. Juarez said that situations like Thursday are a result of rhetoric from anti-illegal immigration groups like Help Save Manassas and county board chairman Corey Stewart that he believes is promoting hatred towards the immigrant community.

Stewart disagreed, saying the sentiments towards illegal immigration were already bubbling over regardless of the resolution and urged calm from everyone involved.

“I would exhort everybody on both sides of the issue, to try to take the emotion out of it, and look at this problem and address it from a very logical perspective and not get carried away and cross that line and do things that are illegal or violent,” Stewart said.

Manassas Councilman Jonathan Way said the sign on the house is a little over the top in size but respects the sign creators’ freedom of speech and called Thursday’s potential act of destruction despicable.

“I hope we catch the evildoers and run them out of town,” Way said. “We just can’t have that type of stuff.”

Regardless of Thursday’s incident, Fernandez said he plans on keeping the sign up as long as possible before demolishing the rest of the home. Eventually, he said he would like to see the property re-zoned for office or retail business.

Councilman Marc Aveni said while he doesn’t condone what happened Thursday, he believes the longer the sign stays, the worse the situation will get.

“This is the kind of climate they [illegal immigrant supporters] are creating by putting up the sign in the first place,” Aveni said. “They are not blameless.”