By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Neighbors gathered in North Baltimore Thursday evening to distribute 300 LGBTQ+ Pride flags after fires destroyed one flag on East 31st Street and decorations on a home across the street the day before. In all, four homes burned and three people were hospitalized.

The motive remains under investigation. Authorities have not ruled out the fires being a hate crime but said it is too early to come to that conclusion. Many neighbors remain on edge and wanted to send the message that hate does not belong in their community. 

“It seems appalling that we have hatred in the community, Nick Kats told WJZ investigator Mike Hellgren. He attends nearby Johns Hopkins University. “This neighborhood is ready to bounce back. It’s strong. Hate is not going to divide this neighborhood.”

Ann Feild has called the Abell community home for years and remains stunned by what happened. 

“This is really terrible for the community,” Feild said. “Very unsettling. Everybody is very unsettled by what happened. It’s very unlikely it was just an accident.”

Odette Ramos, who represents the area on the city council, told Hellgren the flag giveaway was organized privately by residents. Many could be seen carrying flags and flag poles and attaching them to their homes. 

State Senator Mary Washington told Hellgren at the flag giveaway that the community is strong and “love wins.”

Both Washington and Ramos noted the investigation is not over. It includes federal investigators with the FBI and ATF. Ramos said one of the three victims remains hospitalized as of Thursday evening.

“If there is evidence that supports something more nefarious, you have the entire weight of local, state and federal government now on the scene to make sure we find who did this and hold them accountable,” Commissioner Michael Harrison told Hellgren Tuesday. 

Someone placed Pride flags on the damaged homes, which are now boarded up. One sign read: “Love is greater than hate.”

The fires happened days before Baltimore Pride, where security is being increased. Concerning recent incidents include an extremist group targeting a Pride event in Idaho. 

Locally, Baltimore Safe Haven, a transgender-led non-profit providing housing and support for at-risk LGBTQ residents, was vandalized in March.  

“We want to make sure that our community safety is the number one priority,” said Unique Robinson, the chair of Baltimore Pride 2022. “Because we’re expecting a larger festival this year with about 50,000 people, we’ve doubled our security for this year, and that’s not out of fear but just out of simple preparation because we believe in the safety of our community.”