The Explorer

Federal investigators continue to probe evidence from a Northwest home where chlorine tablets and a liquid chemical were poured, creating a cloud that prompted evacuation of 13 nearby homes.

Five people, including the two residents and three neighbors, were taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons. "They were all OK, seen and released," Pima County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Dawn Barkman said.

"The case is ongoing," said FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson, with inquiries into the chemical used, what happened at the scene, the use of defamatory graffiti, whether dead animals were left at the house, whether one or several people acted, and more.

"We are looking at this as a potential hate crime based on what I would describe as derogatory graffiti," Johnson said. Residents Myles and Karen Levine are Jewish.

"There was graffiti," Barkman said. "I don't know what it said."

Deputies were first called at approximately 4:50 a.m. Sunday to the Levine home in the Casas del Oro Norte development, 2870 W. Magee near Shannon Road. The victims themselves called law enforcement, and said they were "unable" to open the sealed garage door and front door to their residence, Barkman said.

"The indication was that the house was sealed, with some type of foam-type sealant," Johnson said.

A "chemical liquid" has not been "definitively" identified, according to Johnson. The FBI is the main investigating agency, with assistance from Northwest Fire and Rescue, the Pima County Sheriff's Department and the state of Arizona.

Deputies from the Foothills District "found several inches of liquid in the front yard of an address," the initial release said. "They also observed what they believed to be chlorine tablets throughout the yard covered by an unknown liquid," a chemical that created "a large cloud of gas over the area, which deputies could see was moving in a west and southwest direction."

The "large" cloud was of undetermined size. "Obviously, it was noticeable," Johnson said.

Northwest Fire District's hazardous materials team and several fire units were called to the scene.

At 6 a.m. Sunday, the sheriff's department issued a warning by media to residents, urging them to remain in their homes if they were in the area of Shannon Road to the east, Cortaro Farms Road to the west, Overton Road to the north and Ina Road to the south.

"They wanted to be very cautious about the area we were covering," Barkman said.

Thirteen nearby homes were evacuated. Other residents were urged "to refrain from outdoor activities," the release said.

Dead animals were found at the home. Investigators are trying to determine if the animals "had been deceased" and were left at the property, or whether they were "overcome by this liquid. We haven't definitively determined that," Johnson said.

Several dead birds, a cat and a jackrabbit were found, Barkman said.

An incendiary device was found at the scene, and is being examined.

Johnson was careful to label the assault as a hate crime. Hate crime is defined as "a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin" and other reasons, statute reads.

"It did state in there that hate itself is not a crime," Johnson said. "I know that takes people back. There is a fine balance between a person's right to have freedom of speech, but when one acts on their hatred toward a particular group, if there is a clear violation of the law, then law enforcement intercedes."

FBI findings will be presented to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which would make any determination as to charges.

"I wouldn't want to scare the public any more than they are alarmed about the situation," Johnson said. "This isn't what we want to take place in our communities."

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