published Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Hamilton County woman, 86, wants to know who attacked her house with a firebomb

Stacey Banther carries a fire-damaged rocking chair out of his grandmother, Hazel Banther's, home. Banther's home was firebombed twice.
Stacey Banther carries a fire-damaged rocking chair out of his grandmother, Hazel Banther's, home. Banther's home was firebombed twice.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Whom to call

The sheriff's office asks that anyone with information regarding this arson call 423-209-8940.

A stroke and a broken hip have slowed 86-year-old Hazel Banther a bit.

But she still manages to get to church on Sundays and to get her hair fixed on Fridays. Usually, Tuesdays are quiet.

That changed two weeks ago when someone threw a homemade firebomb into her garage. They tried again the next night, too.

Both fires went out before doing much damage, but they left Banther wondering whether it might happen again.

"It was awful," she said on the phone, with the TV volume turned up in the background. "I just hope they find who it is and do something to them because if the fire hadn't gone out, I'd be dead."

Her family is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the suspect or suspects who threw the Molotov cocktails into her house on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, according to Hamilton County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Janice Atkinson.

The first incident happened during the night of Oct. 2. Banther usually goes to bed about 10 p.m. and didn't discover the fire damage until the next morning when she took a bag of garbage into her garage.

"They threw a glass beer bottle inside the garage door," Banther said. "I had two rockers that I keep in from the wind and rain -- I go out and sit in them every day when the sun is shining -- and it burned one and some of the paneling."

She said she's glad she always puts her shoes on first thing in the morning because she stepped on a pile of broken glass before she noticed the soot on the wall, where the fire had burned about 4 feet up before going out.

Daughter-in-law Brenda Banther said when the arsonists came back the next night, they threw one bottle at Banther's bedroom window and a second at another window, breaking both, but the wind apparently blew the fires out before they could do much damage. The white paneling on the side of the brick house is covered in black soot and the two windows still are broken.

Hazel Banther, who has a hard time hearing and smelling, has been in the same house since 1984, two years before her husband died. She has no idea why someone would try to set it on fire.

"It's just sad," she said. "I can't imagine. People who see it on the news say, 'Well, why did they bother Hazel?' I don't bother nobody."

She doesn't drive anymore and uses a cane to get around after breaking her hip three years ago. She likes her neighbors, she said, and lives just a few miles from her son and his wife. They were the first people she called when she found the damage from the first firebomb.

Deputies promised to step up patrols by the house, took the bottles to test for fingerprints and set up surveillance cameras, Brenda Banther said. The sheriff's office and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating.

"Who would want to hurt her?" her daughter-in-law asked. "We just think they might have the wrong house. People are so crazy these days, you never know what they're going do."

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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