Flagstaff hookah lounge vandalized in possible hate crime

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Police say someone got into the Maktoob Hookah Lounge before the business opened and spray painted swastikas and the words “get out” on the walls and windows of the shop. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5/Twitter) Police say someone got into the Maktoob Hookah Lounge before the business opened and spray painted swastikas and the words “get out” on the walls and windows of the shop. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5/Twitter)
The lounge's mother, Layla Alden, is from Iraq and has been in the United States for more than three decades. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The lounge's mother, Layla Alden, is from Iraq and has been in the United States for more than three decades. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Investigators say no motive has been eliminated. (Source:  Joseph Postiglione/NAU Lumberjack) Investigators say no motive has been eliminated. (Source: Joseph Postiglione/NAU Lumberjack)
On Aug. 25, the store owner received a handwritten note that police had also been made aware of. (Source: Joseph Postiglione/NAU Lumberjack) On Aug. 25, the store owner received a handwritten note that police had also been made aware of. (Source: Joseph Postiglione/NAU Lumberjack)
Vandal or vandals wrote "get out" along with a swastika in the hookah lounge in Flagstaff. (Source: Joseph Postiglione/NAU Lumberjack) Vandal or vandals wrote "get out" along with a swastika in the hookah lounge in Flagstaff. (Source: Joseph Postiglione/NAU Lumberjack)
FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Detectives with the Flagstaff Police Department are investigating a possible hate crime that occurred early Tuesday morning at a business in the heart of the city.

Police say someone got into the Maktoob Hookah Lounge before the business opened and spray painted swastikas and the words “get out” on the walls and windows of the shop. The bathroom was also vandalized and a small fire was set using the lounge owner’s clothes and papers.

Aaron Jasim owns Maktoob. He is an American born of Iraqui decent and is in his third year at Northern Arizona University.

His mother, Layla Alden, is from Iraq. She has been in the United States for more than three decades. When she first learned about what happened, she was in disbelief.

“It can’t be because this is Flagstaff. Such a beautiful, wonderful, community,” said Alden. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking because I’ve lived in the United States for 31 years. My son was born here. This is the only country my son knows. And even me, when I leave the country, I come back and say, 'Oh, I’m back home,'” said Alden.

Cameron Chase owns a tattoo parlor two doors down from the Hookah Lounge. He got a text a little after 7 Tuesday morning telling him the building was on fire.

“I jumped out of bed and tried to get dressed as quick as I could and ran down here. By the time I got here there wasn’t much going on,” said Chase.

When he saw the vandalism’s content and the damage, he was saddened. 

“It’s terrible. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going on around the country right now. It’s bad news and it’s not something that really happens in an extremely liberal area like Flagstaff. It’s become quite a big deal around here, a lot of people are talking about it,” said Chase.

Investigators say no motive has been eliminated. They are following up on all different angles. But because of the content of the graffiti, it is possible that this is a hate crime.

“I am a mom. I mean, you know, a mom even something little would make you concerned and worried and you want to have your child safe, absolutely, no matter how old your child is,” said Alden.

Maktoob does not have surveillance cameras. Nor does the building that houses the Maktoob. But police say they have gotten some videos from around the area and are reviewing the footage.

On Aug. 25, the store owner received a handwritten note that police had also been made aware of. Chase was aware of the note and said he saw it. 

The note said, "This isn’t over terorist,” with terrorist spelled incorrectly.

“We’ve been in Flagstaff for four years and I never experience anything,” said Alden.

According to Alden, sharing hookah is a cultural tradition in Iraq and it was a family affair helping her son open the shop to share their culture with Flagstaff. 

“I sewed all the cushions. My son built all the furniture. So we really put our heart and souls in that thing and basically wanted it to be a showcase for our culture,” said Alden.

The incident has prompted a few calls to the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, according to Stuart McDaniel, the Chamber's vice president of Government Affairs. 

“This is a very tolerate community and to see that, it’s a shame. The whole community is saddened by it and upset,” said McDaniel.

He went by Maktoob Tuesday before any of the damage had been cleaned up.

“Saw that and I was disgusted. That’s not who we are here in Flagstaff. We’re a small community that looks out for each other,” said McDaniel.

And in that vein, Alden said the community outpouring of support has been overwhelming.

Someone set up a GoFundMe page, which raised more than double the $1,000 goal. Alden said both she and her son have received dozens, if not hundreds, of messages, emails and texts from people they don’t even know offering to help any way they can and expressing sorrow for what happened.

“The support of the community is just amazing and everybody is saying this is not Flagstaff,” said Alden. “I’m so grateful for everybody in the community for their support, for the way they’re standing with us. And I mean, that’s Flagstaff!"

Flagstaff police want to hear from any one who may have witnessed anything regarding the crime, or any nearby business who may have surveillance video. 

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Donna RossiEmmy Award-winning reporter Donna Rossi joined CBS 5 News in September 1994.

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