Vandals torch 20 U.S. flags

Neighbors rally around family that just buried son-in-law soldier

By Dan Klepal
Cincinnati Enquirer staff writer

FAIRFIELD - American flags, lining the lawn of the mother- and father-in-law of fallen U.S. Army Pfc. Timothy Hines Jr., were heaped in a pile early Saturday and burned under a car parked in front of the home - less than 24 hours after Hines was buried in Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery.

Jim Wessel, Hines' father-in-law, said he thinks that the fire was a random act of vandalism.

The flames totaled Sara Wessel's car.

Sara is Hines' sister-in-law and Jim Wessel's oldest daughter. She had been staying at the house on Sando Drive since the family returned last week from Washington, D.C., where they were visiting Hines at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Hines, 21, was buried Friday after more than 400 people mourned his passing and celebrated his life at the Vineyard Community Church in Springdale. He was buried with full military honors, leaving behind a pregnant widow who expects to give birth in about two weeks and a 2-year-old daughter.

Hines died last week from injuries suffered when a roadside bomb exploded June 19 in Baghdad.

Sara Wessel woke up when the flames set off the car alarm.

"Whoever set the fire used about 20 flags that were given to me by friends," Jim Wessel said. "If it wasn't random vandalism, what statement were they trying to make?"

The 20 flags were replaced with more than 200 by Saturday afternoon. The flags came from family, friends and neighbors.

"We have a great neighborhood," Wessel said.

Police said the fire started about 5:30 a.m.

"What happened to this family is a tragedy; what occurred (Saturday) morning is despicable," Fairfield Police Chief Mike Dickey said in a prepared statement. "We will take every step to identify the persons responsible and hold them accountable."

Doris Morris, who has lived next to the Wessels for 46 years, was shocked to hear about the fire.

"This is a quiet neighborhood, and they are very good, sweet people," Morris said of the Wessels. "It's just horrible that someone would do that, whether it was vandalism or because of the Iraq situation."

Bob Kramer, another neighborhood resident who stopped by the scene to visit with his police officer friends, said he doesn't think that the fire was random. There were more than 20 cars parked on the street Saturday morning, he said.

"With the connection to this family, what are the chances of them randomly getting the flags out of their yard and choosing that car?" Kramer asked. "For someone to target them and add to their suffering is just horrendous."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Fairfield Police Department tip line at 896-8200.

Donations can be made to the Timothy Hines Memorial Fund at any Fifth Third Bank, or to the Hines Family House project through Impact A Hero. Information about that program can be found online at www.impactahero.com.

E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com

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