Chris Staples says he is still trying to wrap his head around the idea that someone would try to kill him.
The gay Carrollton man had his home vandalized and then burned down; he was asleep at home when the fire began and barely escaped.
“I feel like I’m sort of in a cave, still in shock,” Staples told the GA Voice on Friday. “I haven’t shed a tear, haven’t gotten mad. I’ve just been feeling blah.”
Christopher Staples, 43, was inside his small home in Carroll County on Sunday, Jan. 23, when he said a rock with an anti-gay note attached was thrown through his window. Hours later, Staples said he woke up to find his home engulfed in flames. Carroll County is some 50 miles west of Atlanta.
Gay Georgia arson victim says God ‘held his hand’ to lead him to safety
The FBI is assisting the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department in the suspected arson case and there is discussion the alleged crime may be classified as a hate crime.
Staples said the note on the rock thrown into his home had algebra homework on one side, although no name was signed on it. On the other side of the rock was an anti-gay rant against Staples.
“On the other side in pencil it called me an ‘AIDS infested faggot’ and ‘God hates gays’ and ‘God will make sure all gays burn in hell,’” he said.
“It kind of freaked me out, but it didn’t scare me,” Staples said of the note. “My parents immediately wanted to call the law. I said, ‘Why?’ I thought that was it.”
‘I’m lucky to be alive’
But the note wasn’t it. Hours later, Staples said he went to sleep with the covers over his head, like a cocoon. He woke up to the sound of popping.
“I heard popping, like popcorn popping,” he said, thinking at first it was his TV. “Then it kept getting louder and I thought someone was throwing rocks again.”
When Staples peeked out from under his covers, he said there was smoke all around him and his covers were already “cracked and crumbly” from the heat and fire.
“I stood up and gasped for air. I couldn’t see so I fell to my knees,” he said.
His head hit the nightstand and his cell phone fell to the floor. He said he grabbed it and began to crawl along the floor trying to find the door.
“There was no air whatsoever. I crawled to where I thought the door was — it was the heater. Right then I was ready to lay down and go to sleep,” he said.
Instead, Staples said he got a “little burst of adrenaline” and he found enough energy to keep crawling until he found the front door.
As he tried to unlock the deadbolt, he kept failing and then slumped to the ground. This proved fortunate because at the bottom of the door there was enough of a gap between it and the floor to let in fresh air.
“There was just enough for me to get a few breaths of fresh air. And I say God did this. I got another rush of adrenaline and was able to open the door,” he said.
As he crawled out the door he looked back and saw his leather couch melting and his ceiling caving in. Still disorientated, he didn’t know what phone number to dial so he said he simply hit the green button, “send,” which called his mother across the street.
“I told my mom to call 911. I was trying to throw up. She ran across the street while I was lying in the grass and I heard her yell, ‘They killed him!’ And I was trying to get her to hear me, that I’m OK,” Staples said.
His mother, Wanda Morris, spoke to the GA Voice last week about her son’s near-death experience.
Staples said he remembers smoke just rolling out of the door in big plumes and that there was an intense heat.
According to Staples, the suspected arsonists poured an accelerant into a hole underneath the kitchen sink from the outside that allows for access to the pipes. And underneath the kitchen sink were items including paint thinner and oil for candles.
“They knew how to get the fire started. And once it got started it went fast,” he said. “I’m lucky to be alive.”
And while the suspected arsonists condemned Staples for being gay, he said he believes it was God who helped him escape the fire.
“God woke me and held my hand,” he said. “Whoever did this doesn’t know God as well as they think they do.”
Staples is currently staying with his parents and sleeping on an air mattress. His mother’s church has volunteered to rebuild his home.
“It’s hard to believe someone tried to kill me,” he reiterated. “It hasn’t hit me.”
Hate crime questions
He acknowledged he is not sure if the person or people who burned down his home were picking on him, Chris Staples, and just used him being gay against him, or if they truly have a hatred of all gay people.
So does he believe this is a hate crime?
“I hate answering that question because I don’t know the person’s intentions,” he said.
“But if someone doesn’t like me because I’m gay and did this, then yes, I think it is a hate crime,” he said. “I don’t want to hear anybody say it’s not a hate crime.”
Even if the people who threw the anti-gay note into his home thought he left his home that night to sleep elsewhere before they set fire to it — what they did was done out of hate, Staples said.
“It’s their loss,” he said.
Being gay in rural Georgia
Staples was raised on a dairy farm and says his good friends have always been “rednecks.”
“I hunt and fish — not really the gay lifestyle scene,” he said.
He said he was never bullied in school and his sophomore year of high school he was voted “Class Favorite.”
His parents always accepted him and loved him, he said, but he didn’t find the courage to come out until he was in his late 20s and early 30s.
“I had two lifestyles — the straight Chris and the gay Chris,” he said.
Living with the secret led him to get ulcers, consider suicide and to use drugs, he added.
“I knew I was born gay,” he said. “But I finally started coming out to certain people later in life.”
For 10 years, Staples said he told people he was bisexual before he came out as gay.
For the most part, his friends and family, including his parents, in Carrollton accepted him and never stopped loving him, he said. He did lose a few friends, Staples said, “but they’re the ones who changed, not me.”
“My mom told me to find a man and start a family,” he said about the level of acceptance he received from his family.
He did visit Atlanta when he was younger and go to gay clubs and tried to establish relationships with men, but now he lives on disability and prefers to spend his time alone.
Carrollton is also home to the University of West Georgia which has a fairly thriving gay scene, Staples added.
And the outpouring of support from the LGBT community has surprised him, Staples said.
“I knew gay people called each other ‘family’ but I never knew what that truly meant,” he said.
“It’s good to know the gay community is as supportive as it is and it’s got my back — that’s a good feeling,” he said.