The Samel family immigrated to the U.S. from Sudan in 2010. They became naturalized citizens in May 2015 and moved into a new house in Iowa City, Iowa, that December.
The house had actually been built for them with help from Habitat for Humanity and as part of the city's National Day of Service and Remembrance in honor of 9/11. The Muslim family — Amar Samel and his wife, Muna Abdalla, along with their four children — were happily settling into their new American lives, including jobs and schooling.
They'd been living in the house 11 months when Amar Samel returned home from a memorial service to find a less-than-welcoming note on the door:
“You can all go home now. We don’t want (a racial epithet) and terrorists here. #Trump.”
That was Nov. 11, 2016, the Friday after Election Day. Judging by the hashtag stamped on the end of the hateful message, the timing was no coincidence.
Unfortunately, when Samel called the police, they were not particularly helpful at first. According to Samel, the officer he spoke with on the phone declined to visit the house or take a formal statement and told Samel to simply take the note down and throw it away.
"This disappointed me more than the action itself because I was looking for kind of support," Samel told the Iowa City Press-Citizen. "Because the police obviously represent for us, represent somebody supporting you. The law. The power. So nobody’s above the law."
The police administration has since assigned a detective to investigate the case. The Iowa City Area CrimeStoppers also stepped in to offer a $1,000 reward for information about the culprits behind the note.
But as word of the incident began to spread around Iowa City, the Samels' fellow Iowans found other ways to show their support.
Strangers and friends alike banded together to flood the family with neighborly love and true hospitality, sending them cookies, cards, flowers, and balloons and chalking affectionate messages on their driveway.
"I'm glad your [sic] my brother's best friend," wrote one classmate to the Samels' son, Mohammed.
"You are very nice people. You should stay," someone scribbled on the asphalt outside their home. "We're glad you're here!" another wrote.
"You hear about these things happening, but you don’t really know if it’s true. When I heard people say this was their neighbor, it really hit home," one Iowan told The Gazette after dropping off a flower bouquet at the Samel family home the Monday after the incident.
Sarah Widdick Shaw saw the Samels' heartbreaking story in The Gazette and shared it with the famous secret Facebook group Pantsuit Nation.
Shaw urged her fellow group members to keep the lovefest going for the Samel family by sending them even more notes, cards, and gifts through The Gazette, whose address she included in the post.
"I only hope that there were enough to make a difference for them," she said. "It's not much, sending letters of support, but gezzus we have to do something to counteract all this hate."
Within the hour, the post had been shared by more than a hundred people. Other users shared photos of their cards, letters, baked goods, and handmade gifts such as stickers and temporary tattoos. Some people even made donations to Habitat for Humanity because they'd helped to build the family's home.
By the Monday before Thanksgiving, The Gazette had received more than a hundred cards and letters, all looking to be delivered to the Samels.
The family was overwhelmed by the support. When The Gazette asked if the family wanted to respond to this outpouring of support, Amar Samel answered, "Tell them we are OK. Everything will be OK. We are relieved by knowing that, this is life, always there is good and bad, but the good is always more."
Recent events may have invigorated a new surge of hate in America, but it's inspired even more people to show how big their hearts can be.
"Hopefully the next generation will have more warmth in their hearts," Sarah Widdick Shaw said after seeing the response to her Facebook post. Though maybe that warmth is already there. We just need to make sure we're actively, openly sharing it for all the world to feel and see.