'N---- lover'; Vandals spray-paint racist slur in Ontario home
Tim Benner spoke to The Standard about a break-in at his Port Colborne home where the vandals left racist graffiti targeting his daughter and her boyfriend in black spray paint on the inside walls of the house. Photo taken on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Julie Jocsak/ St. Catharines Standard/ Postmedia Network
The weight of two words were more than Tim Benner could carry.
The moment he read the words, the full scope and purpose of the attack on his Port Colborne home became clear.
The other details of the break-in — the destruction of floors and furniture, the vandalized walls and defaced family photos — seemed like garish window dressing by comparison.
Those two words, sprayed onto the walls of his teenaged daughter’s bedroom in black paint, told the whole tale.
The racist slur was directed at his 16-year-old daughter Ruby Benner, who has been dating her classmate, 16-year-old Jayden Hannigan, who is black, for the past six months.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Benner said of the moment he saw his daughter’s bedroom after the Feb. 15 break-in. “All I could do was sit down on the edge of the bed here and cry.”
The break-in and vandalism of Benner’s home on Wyldewood Road in rural east Port Colborne is being investigated by Niagara Regional Police as a hate crime.
Ruby and Jayden said they have been left unsettled by the incident.
“It hasn’t changed anything between us, but with other people,” Jayden said Tuesday. “It does bother me. I try not to think about it. I mean, I know it is there, but I try really hard to not let it get to me, or pick fights with people. That is not who I am.”
Ruby said the incident has cast a shadow over her life at Lakeshore Catholic High School where she and Jayden attend classes.
“You see people at school, and you think ‘Did they do it?’ Maybe they are being nice or saying nice things, but maybe they don’t really mean it and they are thinking something else,” she said.
The teens said they do not know who could have done it and cannot recall any incidents that may have triggered someone to attack Benner’s house.
Benner said the vandals broke into his home at about 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 15. He was at a training session at work that morning and his girlfriend left the house shortly after he did.
“That day we were going to drop some things off to the Salvation Army, and we forgot it. So my girlfriend came back to get them,” he said. “The first thing she noticed was that the dog was outside, which she shouldn’t be.”
Benner's girlfriend found the home’s backdoor had been smashed open. A dent, about the size of a human fist, was made in the door and the doorknob was hanging from its socket.
“She hadn’t been gone long, so they must have left just before she came back,” Benner said.
The interior of the house was demolished.
Benner said he had several oil lamps in the house. The vandals broke the lamps open, and poured the oil over the floors, permanently ruining the carpets and hardwood floors.
“Everything has been ripped out now,” Benner said, who estimates the total damage done will cost about $25,000.
A hutch was smashed and lamp oil was poured over leather couches.
In the downstairs bathroom, the letters “FU” were sprayed onto the wall in black paint, along with several wavy lines and a symbol that looks like an asterisk.
In the living room, the vandals spray painted over family photos in the living room, painted a happy face on a mirror and a penis on one of the walls.
“They stole all of my booze. I am a beekeeper, and they stole some jars of honey and some digital cameras,” he said.
Benner said his girlfriend had called the police, and NRP officers were already on scene when he got back to the house that morning.
It wasn’t until police officers had dusted for fingerprints and collected physical evidence that Benner learned what had been done to the bedroom Ruby shares with her sister.
“It was a few hours later and an officer came to me and told me there was something I needed to see,” he said. “He took me up to my girls’ bedroom. They live with their mother, but this is the room they use when they stay with me.”
There, sprayed painted on the walls under the photos of Justin Bieber the girls had stuck on the ceiling, were those two words.
“I didn’t want to tell them at first,” said Benner. “I didn’t know what to tell them. But I eventually explained it to her. When Ruby saw it, she burst out into hysterics.”
Jayden said he was driving to Toronto with his mother when he got a call from Ruby.
“She was so upset and crying so much. She cries sometimes, right, but not like this. This was something else,” he said.
Shannon Hannigan, Jayden’s mother, said her son’s demeanour changed radically when he heard from Ruby.
“He is always on his phone, so at first I didn’t think anything of it. But in an instant he changed. Call it mother’s instinct, but I could tell something really awful had happened. It was like he suddenly turned into another person,” she said.
Hannigan said racism is something she and her son have lived with for 16 years. Jayden’s father is black and Hannigan is white.
She said the first time she had to discuss racism with her son was when he was five years old and kids on the playground started asking why Jayden was black but his mother wasn’t.
When he was eight, another child used the N-word.
“I date black men, so I am used to dealing with it. But I am an adult,” she said. “It’s a lot harder on kids, especially in a place like Port Colborne where there are maybe three black men. So Jayden does stand out.”
She said since the incident Jayden has not wanted to go to school, and she’s had to cut short her shifts as a nurse to check on Jayden when he leaves classes early.
Jayden said he has always been able to shrug off racist remarks thrown his way in the past, but this is different. His girlfriend being targeted in a hate crime, likely by someone who knows them, is deeply unsettling.
Hate crimes in Niagara are comparatively rare to other crimes, but they do happen.
Police have investigated 23 hate crimes in Niagara in the past two years — 13 in 2015 and 10 in 2016. No hate crime charges were laid in those cases.
Benner said he is infuriated that someone would break into his home to target his daughter and her boyfriend.
“These are children. Innocent kids,” said Benner, who met Jayden for the first time following the incident. “He treats my daughter like gold, so I am standing up for him just like I am standing up for my daughter. We cannot tolerate this. It’s not right.”
Police are asking anyone with information about this hate crime to call them at 905-688-4111 or CrimeStoppers 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).