Monroe County, Tenn. officials are investigating a potential hate crime after a lesbian couple were victims of arson at their home over Labor Day weekend.

The couple in question, Carol Ann Stutte and partner Laura Stutte, were on a visit to Nashville when the incident happened on Saturday, Sept. 4. They returned to find their house was burned to the ground and the word "Queer" spray painted on the side of their garage.

The couple, who have been together for more than 15 years, moved to Vonore, Tenn. from Oklahoma. At the time of the fire, they were in Nashville celebrating their fifth anniversary in Tennessee. Carol Strutte's adult daughter from a previous marriage also lived with the couple.

The couple alleges that the neighbor had reportedly threatened to kill them and burn down their house. They filed a police complaint following the most recent threat in August. The Monroe County Sheriff's Department has confirmed that they are investigating the arson with the aid of the state Bomb and Arson Squad. At this time, there are "people of interest" in the case, but no arrests have been made.

PFLAG Maryville has sent out a call for donations on behalf of the couple, with needed items including women's clothing, household items and dog food for the couple's three dogs. The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is also collecting monetary donations on behalf of the couple.

According to Becky Lucas, president of PFLAG Maryville, Knoxville Pridefest has received over $10000 to support the couple. In addition to national pledges, the organization has received donations from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Many clothing donations, a laptop and several gift cards have also been submitted by community members. Lucas expressed appreciation for the support by the community.

"We have had an unbelievable response and outpouring of support from this community," Lucas said. "I feel very blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by so many kind, caring people." 

For more information on how you can get involved in helping the couple, please click here to go to the PFLAG Maryville site. The Stuttes will be special guests at the next meeting of PFLAG Maryville on Thursday, Oct. 7. The East Tennessee Equality Council will present a check to the Stuttes, and representatives from the Knoxville Human Rights Group, TTPC and PFLAG Knoxville will be on hand.

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