Vandals attacked a Fort Lauderdale day care center early Sunday morning, defacing its walls with three red swastikas, shattering windows and leaving the parts of the building, which serves as a church on weekends, charred and blackened.
“We worked so hard to make this,” said Bishop Ivory Wilson, who surveyed the destruction on Sunday. “The kids love us, the parents love us and we love them.”
Wilson and his wife Sandra Wilson, the director of Little Leapers Childcare Center, said they believe the fire was set deliberately and that it was a hate crime.
In the last few weeks, employees say they also have been on the receiving end of a verbal threat.
Three weeks before the fire, an anonymous caller phoned “and threatened us,” said Joyce Bryant, lead schoolteacher. The caller told staff to pack their bags and get out, Bryant said.
When that call came in, the bishop and his wife contacted police. But vandals struck nonetheless.
When the Wilsons arrived at the church Sunday morning they faced a grim scene.
“This just broke my heart, I couldn't stop crying -- couldn't stop crying,” Sandra Wilson said.
Cameras, music equipment and flat screen TVs used to live-stream sermons were all missing, the cafeteria where children eat was charred and the roof of the building was blackened with soot.
"Here we've got parents that won't know where to take their kids tomorrow morning," Wilson said.
The couple had been running the building in the community for more than four years and are still grappling with why they had been attacked.
"We think everyone should be able to run their own business without anyone trying to run them out," Bryant said.
The bishop said vacating the building is the last thing they'll do, unwilling to let hatred win.
"We're not going to run,” he said. “Whatever game they're playing doesn't frighten me.”