Billings family deals with vandalism and slurs directed at son

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BILLINGS, Mo. "This is a really quite neighborhood and no one has really had any problem with vandalism or theft or anything like that."

Those were the words of Angie Cope, whose family lives in a normally tranquil subdivision just blocks from downtown Billings.

But that safe feeling was shaken overnight Wednesday when two young men who were captured on surveillance video from a neighbor's house across the street came to the Cope's home and vandalized their truck which was parked in their driveway. The truck had all four tires and homophobic slurs were painted on one side, directed at their 20 year-old son Nate.

"It's someone who was specifically targeting him and thought that was his truck because he's been driving it but it's his dad's truck," Angie explained.

"That's what hurt me the most," Nate's father Alan said. " I wasn't worried about my truck. I was worried about my son."

"It's sad to see how people will react to you if your different," Nate added.

Nate, who had been driving the truck to his new job in Marionville, says he has his suspicions about who might have done this, but that dealing with anti-gay harassment is nothing new to him.

"In my old apartment I was harassed and stalked," he said. "At my job I had to quit and move back home. Even in middle school I was standing by a window and got a random phone call and some guy said, 'Step away from the window' and started sending me rape threats."

By Thursday morning the family had been able to remove most of the vandals' paint on the truck although the driveway was still splattered. The punctured tires were still in place and the estimated $1,200 it will cost to replace them qualifies this a felony offense.

The Christian Co. Sheriff's Office is still in the early stages of investigating the case though and is not yet calling it a hate crime.

Amazingly, the family has traded their anger for forgiveness.

"We need to show more of the love instead of more of the hate," Nate said. "Words are just words. Why spread more hate in the world? Punishing them can make them more mad. They won't learn their lesson. People are gonna do what they're gonna do. Hopefully they'll feel guilty and have some kind of remorse."

"I'm the type of person who believes everyone deserves a second chance," Alan added. "So if someone would come forth and say, 'Hey, we did this' I would more than likely not press charges because they need help. Those are harsh words and I'm proud of this young man for standing up for who he is. He's no different than me and you."

"It's almost like the people that are negative thrive on that fact," said Angie. "The parents are the ones who should be laying down the rules. You have to be taught compassion and practice that or it's not going to be a part of your adult life."

In addition to showing the two men, the video also shows a maroon four-door sedan leaving the scene and if you know anything about either the car or the men, please call the Christian Co. Sheriff's Office at 417-581-2332.

The family also wanted to thank all their neighbors who have shown support, supplied surveillance video, and spread the word on social media.

"Good Samaritans in Billings, Missouri have been spreading this all the way to Colorado," Alan said. "We've got some good neighbors."