What was first regarded as a simple break-in has taken on a sinister, hateful tone.
Tim Benner's house was burglarized on Feb. 15. Furniture was broken, computers and valuables were stolen, and the walls were spray painted. It was believed to be a routine case of home-invasion until officers alerted Benner to a startling discovery in his daughter's room. The words "N**ga Lover" had been scrawled on the wall in large, black letters.
"I was pretty shaken up. I sat down on the bed and cried. I'm still in shock," said Benner to CBC Toronto. "It was a big decision to show [my daughter] this. This has to be brought out and brought forward to let my kids know this is not right."
The incident happened at the Benner's farm outside Port Colborne, Canada, near Lake Erie in the Niagara region. The house is not visible from the road, so who ever broke in to the Benner residence must know the family and have targeted them specifically.
"It's obviously somebody that knows my kids," said Benner.
Benner's daughter, Ruby, 16, is dating Jayden Hannigan, 15. Both are in 10th grade at Lakeshore Catholoic High School and have reportedly been dating for half a year.
"Some nights, she's crying and I'm just trying to say it's all right," Jayden told CBC Toronto. "I just think to myself not everyone is racist or not everyone thinks of me different, or her, because she's dating a different color," he said.
"It's hard to think about, to imagine who would do this," Ruby told the CBC reporter through tears. "It's crazy."
The incident has caused significant psychological trauma to both children. Jayden's mother, Shannon Hannigan, worries the incident will affect her son for a long time.
"He doesn't want to go to school. He doesn't want to go to hockey. He doesn't want to leave my house," she told CBC Toronto. "That's not fair to a kid who should be worried about what he's doing Friday night … That's not Jayden. They've done something to his psyche. They've taken my innocent child and made him into something he's not. They've robbed my family."
Jayden admits he's been trying to provide emotional support for Ruby, but that it's been difficult. "I feel like people look at me different now," he said. "Before, I thought I fit into everyone."
The incident comes on the heels of a sharp increase in hate crimes in the United States. Many in Canada worry that the rhetoric in the U.S. is affecting Canadians.
"The boundaries are porous, the borders are porous, so anything that happens in the U.S. obviously affects us," said sociologist Barbara Perry, a global hate crime expert at the University of Ontario, reports Global News. "We get the same Twitter feeds, we hear the same sound bites on television and radio and in the print media as well. Clearly the messages are crossing the border."