One-alarm fire rips through home of man recently targeted with racist threats

by Griffin Jones

img_0818, One-alarm fire rips through home of man recently targeted with racist threats, Featured News & Views
Fire crews enter the home of Carolyn, Luddie and Terry Williams at 11:35 a.m., shortly after a fast-moving fire engulfed the property.

At 11:31 a.m. today, flames engulfed a two-story home at Grove and Fillmore Streets, recently the site of racist hate mail sent to Terry Williams, a lifelong figure in the Fillmore and local dog walker. 

The one-alarm fire left the home in ruins and uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. Williams’ parents, Carolyn, 79, and Luddie, 82, were rescued by fire crews. Jonathan Baxter, San Francisco Fire Department Chief, said that Williams’ mother, Carolyn, was hospitalized in serious condition and Luddie was taken in moderate condition.

“It was a very fast-moving fire,” said Baxter. “We’re thanking the people that called 911 early and got us here quick. One of the victims that was rescued didn’t have a minute left.”

On April 26, Williams was the recipient of a terrifying racist package that included death threats, a noose, photos of Williams and his dogs, Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia and a blackface doll covered in statements like “GO PICK COTTON” and “WE FOUND YOU DICKHEAD.” 

The incident was first reported by the SF Bay View on April 30. Since then, threats against Williams have escalated to include a second package with a blackface doll on May 5 and a bizarre confrontation in Alamo Square on May 16.

“I’m at a loss for words,” said Williams, 49, gazing at his blackened home. His three Rottweilers sat panting at his feet, snaking in and out of his legs. Neighbors and friends surrounded him on the north side of Grove Street while crews of firefighters dug through the ruins across the street. 

Williams told the Bay View that he left his house at 10:40 a.m. this morning for a meeting at City Hall with James Caldwell, Mayor London Breed’s chief officer of public safety. Caldwell has been supporting Williams through his case since the first incident. The two have also been close friends since 8th grade and attended John O’Connell High School together.

Williams and Caldwell met with Mayor Breed at 11 a.m. to discuss a plan on how to support Williams and his family’s safety.

“Thirty minutes into our conversation, he gets a phone call that his house was on fire. His parents were inside,” said Caldwell.

As of now, it is unclear if the fire is related to the recent threats directed at Williams. “But that sure is a coincidence,” Caldwell said, eyebrows raised.

img_1602, One-alarm fire rips through home of man recently targeted with racist threats, Featured News & Views
Fire crews preparing to enter Terry Williams’ home to investigate extent and cause of the fire that engulfed the property at 11:31 a.m. Tuesday morning. — Photo: Griffin Jones

According to the fire department, about 40 firefighters from multiple stations were called up. The fire originated in the front of the house, leaving back areas with smoke and water damage. 

While no further mail threats have been seen at his Grove Street home since the second incident on May 5, Williams told the Bay View that last week, around May 16, a man charged toward him in Alamo Square yelling that Williams’ dog had bitten him. Williams was dumbfounded. “We weren’t even near that man,” he said. “It was just weird.” 

Caldwell said that he and the Department of Public Health are working to find Williams and his family a safe place to relocate while the fire continues to be investigated. 

In the meantime, neighbors have started a fundraiser for the Williams family to support them through the devastation. Please contribute what you can.

San Francisco police ask that anyone with information contact SFPD at 415-575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411, beginning the message with SFPD. 

Griffin Jones is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. She formerly worked at Mission Local, the San Francisco Bay View and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She can be reached at griffinforrestjones@gmail.com.