Posted on November 30, 2004

Arson Uproots Detroit Family

Amber Hunt Martin and Mary Owen, Detroit Free Press, Nov. 29

[Note from the AR reader who sent this story in:

“‘Indian Village’ is a small ‘White enclave’ (now 43 percent white, 54 percent black) within Detroit, made up of old stately mansions and well kept lawns, and popular among the White liberal yuppie set. As the Village population has become more black, their crime problems have increased dramatically.

“Though the news media avoided mentioning their race, and the print media won’t post a photo of the victims for the same reason, a local TV news station did air a video interview with the Serra family showing them to be all white. None mentioned the possibility that the Serra’s could be victims of black racism, as undoubtedly would have been done if the races had been reversed, and in the suburbs. Not mentioned in the only article on this white family under siege in Detroit, but mentioned in the TV News story interview with Ann Serra, was that bricks have also been thrown through their windows.—Risorgemento II”]

They didn’t move away when burglars stole Ann Serra’s wedding ring and her grandmother’s jewelry.

Or when they caught a man loading a leaf blower stolen from their garage into his trunk.

Or when someone set their garbage ablaze on the curb earlier this month.

But on Sunday, as their 8-year-old son cleaned soot off the piggy bank he’d salvaged from his firebombed east-side home, Ann and Steven Serra said enough is enough.

They’ve decided to leave their home of 15 years in Detroit’s Indian Village.

“We were obviously targeted,” said Ann Serra, 40, from a relative’s home in Macomb County. “We have to move. We have no choice.”

Serra, a social worker, and her family plan to stay with relatives at least through the holidays, as they figure out how to begin anew.

The family has endured a dozen break-ins in the past few years. Crime in their neighborhood has gotten so bad, neighbors post incidents through an e-mail list serve in hopes of thwarting repeats, Serra said.

For the Serras, the last straw was the firebomb. It flew through the office window about 10 a.m. Saturday and killed one of their dogs, police said.

The week before, Ann Serra found a Molotov cocktail—a plastic Pepsi bottle filled with kerosene or lighter fluid and a sock as a makeshift wick—on their lawn, so she rearranged her schedule so she could stay home as much as possible.

But it wasn’t enough. On Saturday, she left briefly to take her son, Tyler, 8, to an appointment. Minutes later, her home was in flames and surrounded by Detroit police and fire officers.

Inside, her 9-year-old chocolate Labrador, Kiko, tried to escape through an upstairs window. She didn’t make it.

Nor did Cutie, Tyler’s pet hamster.

“I’m not a vengeful person, but . . . “ Ann Serra trailed off Sunday. “My husband’s a doctor now, but he grew up poor. I grew up middle class. We worked for everything that we have. But no one around here cares anything about that.”

The Serras’ trouble began about 10 years ago, five years after they moved into the $159,000 home in the 3500 block of Seminole.

At first, the break-ins seemed random: lawn equipment would disappear from the garage, and computer equipment from the house.

The Serras fortified their home. They put bars over their windows and installed an alarm system for protection.

Things quieted down. In August, Ann and Steven Serra celebrated two years without a break-in. They were focused on staying put and had invested about $150,000 in renovating the three-level home, Serra said.

But then someone broke into their garage. For the seventh time. “We had a commercial lawn mower chained to the floor with a boat chain,” Ann Serra said. “They snipped it like it was butter.”

Less than a month later, their home was burglarized—for the fifth time.

The thief or thieves bypassed the fortified first floor by tearing the rope climber off the Serra kids’ playscape, their mother said. The climber went from a picnic table in the yard to the second-floor window leading into 6-year-old Sydney’s bedroom.

“They never came in when we were home,” Serra said. “Once my husband caught someone leaving the house, but that was it.”

Police say they have no suspects in the recent incidents. But Detroit Police Sgt. John Claybourne said Saturday’s firebombing doesn’t appear random.

Claybourne said Sunday that police are looking for witnesses. So far, they have no motive.

Serra said the toughest part is knowing she couldn’t protect her children. The two youngsters already had been taught how to escape in case of a fire after the first Molotov cocktail was discovered.

Tyler had even worked out an escape plan for Cutie. He planned to wrap the hamster in a pillow and toss it out his bedroom window.

On Sunday, the family returned to their scorched home to find burglars had broken in again and stolen a fax machine, computer and liquor from the third floor, which sustained the least fire damage. A damage estimate wasn’t available Sunday.

“Nobody deserves this,” said Serra. He praised the Detroit police and neighborhood security guard who tried to help.

“Short of a police officer standing on our lawn with an AK47, I don’t know what more we could’ve done.”