ST. ALBANS, Vt. - Two sisters are being charged with a hate crime for spray painting antigay slogans and slashing the tires of the vehicles belonging to two men joined in a civil union, police said yesterday.
Melissa Gaboury, 16, pleaded not guilty to charges of hate-motivated unlawful mischief and unlawful trespass. Her sister, Meghan Gaboury, 18, was being sought by police, said Vermont State Police Trooper Jay Riggen.
Melissa Gaboury was released on a variety of conditions.
The vandalism occurred following nearly a month of escalating interactions between the sisters and the two men, Riggen said.
The sisters, who are distant cousins of one of the victims, and their father recently had been evicted from the apartment house where the victims lived. The house was owned by the grandmother of one of the victims, and the two men had moved there to take care of her, police said.
Following their eviction, the sisters, who have a record of juvenile behavior issues, started having "increasingly volatile interactions" with the victims and violated no-trespass orders, police said.
On Sunday night, one of the men said he had spotted one of the sisters in a vehicle outside the house and said a short time later that he believed Melissa Gaboury had called his grandmother's number three times, according to a police affidavit.
On Monday morning, the two men awoke to find their tires slashed and their cars spray-painted with antigay slogans.
"The girls have used these terms against us for the past few months," one of the men told police. "They use them to specifically demean us."
Police searched the vehicle and found a knife and a red can of spray paint underneath the rear seat.
Police said they decided to seek hate-crime charges against the sisters after speaking with them.
"Their tones with me were very conversational about it, referring to the homosexual population in really derogatory terms," Riggen said. "They were very nonchalant about it."
When they talked about certain antigay terms they had used, "you just get a sense from them that they were filled with a certain level of disgust if not hate," Riggen said. "It was pretty shocking, actually."
The victims feel disenfranchised and dispirited by the crime, Riggen said.
"They were from Burlington. They moved up here to take care of their grandmother who's in her 80s now. It's one of those things where they're here trying to do a good thing for a relation. To be targeted specifically like this, they just want to leave the area. The word they used was they really felt like they had a crushed spirit."
If convicted of a hate crime, the sisters face up five years in prison.
The Gaboury family could not be contacted yesterday.