The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office is investigating an alleged assault of a gay couple who run a chocolate shop along the state’s border with Maine.
Michael Garrity, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, confirmed to the Associated Press that the office is looking into an incident in which a group of youths allegedly attacked the couple, in what some could consider a potential hate crime.
The couple, William Poole and his husband, Loren, who own and operate the Wm. Poole Confections shop in Somersworth, New Hampshire, say they’ve been menaced and threatened by potential burglars twice in the past month. Due to fear of retribution from the group, they have closed their shop “permanently,” according to the business’s website.
“Our Civil Rights Unit is certainly aware of this incident and is actively working with the Somersworth Police Department and our law enforcement partners to look into it further,” Garrity said in a written statement to the AP.
In a Facebook post, Poole claimed that two individuals who were part of a small group of young people had climbed up onto a ledge roof of the building and attempted to break into the couple’s second-floor apartment, located above their confection shop, on Sunday, July 16. Poole said he yelled at the two individuals to get down and later confronted them on the street.
According to Poole, the youths yelled homophobic slurs at the couple, called them “f**s” and “buttfuckers” and made references to “Nazis,” though Poole couldn’t tell whether they were calling him and his husband Nazis, or saying they would “sic” Nazis on the couple. He said he filed a complaint with the police and was going through surveillance footage from the shop’s cameras to try and provide a description of the youths.
“Since moving here, I’ve been called F** three times in as many years. Duh…tell me something I don’t know,” he wrote. “I’m not so much put off by this other than being embarrassed for the lack of wit or originality. It does make a continued-tiresome dent in where, and how I want to conduct business.
“I won’t be a service to a community that does not want, or appreciate what I’m offering,” Poole added, announcing a temporary closure with plans to reopen the store in the late summer.
Subsequently, on Monday, July 24, Poole claims he discovered the youths on the ledge trying to break into his residence. When they confronted the youths, they allegedly attacked the couple, hurling anti-gay remarks at them and attacking them with weapons. Poole said he was struck on the eye several times and once in the mouth with a blunt instrument, suffering lacerations, bruises, and stitches during the assault.
After Somersworth police responded to the scene, one of the fathers of the youth allegedly drove by, telling them, “I’ll be seeing you two,” which Poole has interpreted as a veiled threat.
“I fear for my life and that of my partner, and I fear that our home and business [will] be further antagonized or damaged,” Poole wrote on Facebook. “We will not re-enter our home and business without police escort. I will defend myself and my home, and my partner’s life and our home.”
Somersworth Police Capt. Matt Duval told Foster’s Daily Democrat that police are investigating multiple juveniles in connection with the assault. Duval said that police are “looking into whether or not these two incidents rise to the level of civil rights violations against the two business owners due to their sexual orientation.”
“The business owners allegedly confronted the juveniles on the sidewalk out in front,” Dual said. “Shortly thereafter a physical altercation ensured between the two business owners and the group of juveniles. Responding officers found that all parties involved suffered from some type of minor injuries and were tended to by EMTs from Stewart’s Ambulance Service and Dover Fire,” Duval stated in a press release.
Duval told the Daily Democrat that two juveniles and one adult were transported to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover by ambulance with non-life-threatening injuries.
“It was also reported that a firearm was brandished during the physical altercation on the sidewalk in front of Somersworth City Hall,” Duval said in the press release. “A firearm was seized by officers during the investigation. The firearm was not reportedly discharged during the incident.”
Police are asking anyone with additional information on either of the two altercations to call (603) 692-3131. People can also provide anonymous tips by calling (603) 692-9111 or submitting them via an online form provided by the department.
Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard issued a statement condemning the attack on the Pooles.
“The foundation of the Hilltop City and nation is built upon the vast diversity of citizens from which it draws its strength. We are a community of different ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. When one member of our community is attacked, all members of our community are attacked,” Hilliard said in a statement.
“The Hilltopper spirt of neighbor helping neighbor will continue to shine its light and overpower any darkness, prejudice or act of hate that attempt to erode the character of who we truly are,” Hilliard added. “Somersworth stands with William Poole and his husband Loren and will do everything it can to help our fellow citizens and ensure that justice is brought against the assailants.”
Crystal Paradis, a city resident and former city councilor, called the possible anti-gay attack “deeply upsetting,” according to the Daily Democrat. She has set up a GoFundMe page to help financially support the Pooles as they figure out what to do next. The fundraiser claims the money raised — over $31,000 thus far — will “help cover the costs of a closed business and unforeseen hospital bills.”
“If we want to be the type of community where this could never happen, we have to step up and make sure that bigotry never goes unchallenged,” Paradis said. “William and Loren have invested so much in our community, and I hope our city responds by surrounding them with unwavering love and support.”
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