A Molotov cocktail was found outside a queer couples home in Lents yesterday.
A Molotov cocktail was found outside a queer couple's home in Lents yesterday. COURTESY ERIN MAKUS

Update, 7:15 am Thursday

Last night PPB announced they have arrested Jesse David Bennett, 27, in connection with the case. Bennett lives in the same neighborhood as the victims. He has been charged with two counts of possession of a destructive device, and two counts of unlawful manufacture of a destructive device.

Bennett was previously arrested in 2014 for making violent threats. Those included sending Facebook messages to a Washington woman threatening to rape and kill her, and threatening mass shootings and bombings at several area high schools and colleges.

"We recognize that these incidents can generate fear in our community," said PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw in a press release. "These cases are taken seriously and I am proud of Detective Meredith Hopper's resolve and swift apprehension of the suspect."

Update, 5:15 pm Wednesday:

PPB has confirmed that they arrested a suspect in this case today. Makus said that she believes the suspect lives in her neighborhood. As of now, PPB is not releasing the suspect's name.

Original story:

Two unlit Molotov cocktails have been found in front of different Portland homes this week—and there’s reason to believe that the actions were motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment.

According to a press release sent Tuesday evening by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), the unlit Molotov cocktails were found by two homes at the intersection of SE Powell and SE 104th, in the Lents neighborhood. The first was found on Monday, and the second on Tuesday. Both instances were reported to PPB.

Erin Makus, who lives in one of the targeted homes, told the Mercury that her wife discovered the Molotov cocktail on their front lawn on Tuesday morning. (She asked that we not use her wife’s name because of privacy concerns.) At first, the weapon looked like a random piece of litter.

“It’s not really unusual to find trash in our yard, so she didn’t think too much of it,” Makus said. “But as she came closer, she realized it had something coming out of the neck of it, a paper towel was shoved in there. So that scared her…. We were a little freaked out, but we didn’t want to think too much of it.”

Makus reported it to the police, who initially said there was little PPB could do about the matter. But just 10 minutes after a PPB officer left their home, Makus’ wife received text messages from an unfamiliar number. The texts referenced a rainbow flag, which the couple has flown outside their home for the past four summers.

“I dislike your type and the rainbow flag you displayed on the street too,” the messages read. “Anyway I left something in your front yard like I did with some other people in their yards during the past few days. It’s about my feelings on your culture. On the edge of your yard. Enjoy!”

The person sending the text messages included both the couples’ first names, and referenced the line of work Makus’ wife is in. Makus suspects the sender researched their address and found that her wife’s business was registered under it.

The couple contacted PPB again, and officers again visited their home and spent a couple hours Tuesday afternoon interviewing them and their neighbors. It was then that the couple learned a neighbor of theirs had also been targeted on Monday, though that neighbor does not have any LGBTQ+ symbols outside their home and did not receive any strange text messages.

PPB is investigating both cases as possible bias crimes, and has declined to share the police reports from these incidents with the Mercury because they are part of an ongoing investigation.

Makus said that she doesn’t think the person who left the Molotov cocktails intended to cause physical harm—as they were both unlit—but that she suspects it was “a jerk trying to intimidate, trying to make us feel bad for who we are.”

“We are feeling some fear and anxiety,” she added. “It’s unsettling, especially if it ends up being someone sort of nearby us—to me, that’s the worst-case scenario.”

This isn’t the first time this year that possible anti-LGBTQ bias crimes have occurred in Portland. In February, a rumors of multiple anti-LGBTQ+ attacks circulated on social media and put Portland’s queer community on edge. Makus posted about finding the Molotov cocktail both on Nextdoor and on her personal social media pages, but said that there is a “tough balance between wanting to alert the community, and not causing harm.”

“I know when you make a post about something happening, it gives people a lot of fear and anxiety,” she added. “We weren’t sure if we should put it out there or not, but ultimately we wanted the queer community to be aware of it.”

Police investigators believe there may be other victims, and ask that they call PPB’s emergency line at 503-823-3333. People with additional information, including surveillance video of the incidents, are asked to call the detective working the case at 503-823-3408.

“I think we both hope the detectives make some progress,” Makus said, “so we can get some peace of mind.”