ESCONDIDO, Calif., (KGTV) -- Community members are coming to the realization that a hate crime occurred in their neighborhood. Many came to witness the damage. 10News spoke to a man who brought his children to the arson scene saying this was a teachable moment.
It was a real-life lesson that Yusef Miller never thought he would teach his sons Naeem and Dario at their home mosque. Exactly one week ago, Miller led an interfaith prayer vigil in Escondido's Maple Street Plaza, after a gunman killed 50 Muslims at two New Zealand mosques in a terror attack. But that was 6,900 miles away. The fire was steps from his home.
"We didn't anticipate that this would happen here, and so soon after our prayer vigil," Miller said.
Escondido Police said what happened early Sunday morning was a targeted arson. The perpetrator left graffiti, referencing the New Zealand attacks. This act of terrorism already had Escondido Police on high alert.
"Immediately following the shooting at the New Zealand mosque, and informed the folks here locally, and said we will be doing extra patrols," Lt. Chris Lick of the Escondido Police Department said.
But clearly, it was not enough. Sunday morning at around 3:00, someone set fire to the side wall of the Islamic Center of Escondido. Police said five people were sleeping inside when the fire started. But mosque members were immediately able to extinguish the flames before fire crews arrived. No one was hurt.
"We thought we were pretty relaxed, even though we were vigilant. But now that this happened here, we are hyper-vigilant now. This can happen anywhere to anyone," Miller said. "Whoever did this, they meant business. This wasn't just a threat. They had the tools to actually harm people and take lives."
His 12-year-old son, Naeem looked at the damage with a blank stare.
"It's like you can't be safe anywhere," Naeem Miller said.
It was a life lesson Miller wished he never had to teach. But it was an important one on reality.
"So guys, remember," he said to his sons. "Be safe when you're walking around here. There are people up to no good. But there are a lot of people out here doing good too. Ok? So don't be too nervous walking around here, but still be aware. We're going to be Muslim no matter what. Muslim forever. But be safe. Ok?"
Miller is inviting the public to join them in a Silent prayer and safety vigil tonight at the Islamic Center of Escondido at 8pm-9pm.