Darnell Byrd McPherson — the volunteer mayor of Lamar, South Carolina — said she was a hate crime victim after finding a "yellow, sticky substance" that seemed to have been sprayed on her car early last month, Newsweek reported.
McPherson had returned to her home Feb. 7 and told the magazine that her husband "went out to the car to get some things out of the garage. He says, 'Somebody's painted your car!'"
It was a "grainy substance" like industrial spray foam used to patch concrete, Newsweek said, and "looked like little pebbles." The stuff was on her husband's car as well.
McPherson told Newsweek she "likened it as a hate crime because No. 1, there's a history [of racism] in our town of Lamar."
In a statement to WPDE-TV, the mayor said, "During the 70s, crosses were burned in the yard of our home when my Mother was involved with the civil rights movement. On this very same corner in this very same front yard!"
But Newsweek said police have a simpler explanation: pollen.
An incident report the magazine obtained said McPherson and her husband streaked fingers over their cars' surfaces and "realized it was not paint and that the substance could be removed with a finger; similar to pollen."
Her statement to WPDE noted: "The incident happened last night. Even though I drove my car today, I thought it was pollen. My husband and our neighbor noticed the cars looked like someone had spray painted on both our vehicles, which were parked in our front yard."
Nevertheless, McPherson told Newsweek the incident haunted her: "It ignited some fear in my spirit. My God, who would do that? It was something; it was just unnerving to me."
And while no words or symbols were drawn through the substance, she told the magazine "to me that was the message."
Also the executive director of Darlington County First Steps — which aims to strengthen families through education, Newsweek said — McPherson had no possible motives for a person or people targeting her.
"I have a good reputation," she told the magazine. "I have never been subjected to something like this."
'We found it to be pollen'
Darlington County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Robby Kilgo told Newsweek that "we found it to be pollen. There was no reason for us to collect a sample."
The incident report obtained by the magazine noted that a sergeant and a deputy "immediately came to the conclusion that the substance had a yellowish tint to it, and that it's a type of powder similar to pollen."
A spokeswoman from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division added to Newsweek that officials there looked at the report and decided against opening a formal investigation.
And why not?
"Because we did not believe a crime occurred," the spokeswoman told the magazine.
Nevertheless, McPherson told Newsweek the "sticky" substance is "something" and that it "took two different solutions to get it off." Unfortunately the mayor saved no samples before the cars were pressure-washed twice the next day, the magazine said.
And McPherson even has "a possible suspect in mind at the time" of the incident, Newsweek reported.
More from the magazine:
When McPherson attended a town meeting after the incident, she learned from her local law enforcement personnel that there had been additional threats.
"There's a police officer who came to me and said, 'There's rumors out there that they're going to assassinate you,'" the mayor recounted.
She had asked the local law enforcement to file a complaint about the purported death threat as well.
"That's a federal crime," she said she told the officer at the time.
In the end, McPherson told Newsweek she's more concerned about whatever may have been intended: "I don't care about a car. What I want is my life."