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Police focus on victim’s mother in Lunenburg racist graffiti case

LUNENBURG — After telling police her house was spray-painted with racist graffiti, the mother of a former Lunenburg High School football player is now a “strong suspect” in the investigation of the incident, according to court records and police.

Andrea Brazier was questioned by local police and an FBI agent Nov. 25, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Fitchburg District Court. During that interview, the FBI agent suggested that Brazier was pushing for the investigation to end because she was the one who had scrawled the graffiti on her family’s home, the affidavit said.

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“Andrea stated ‘OK,’ ” according to the affidavit filed by Detective Jeffrey Thibodeau of the Lunenburg police. “Andrea just kept answering ‘OK’ and that she wanted everything to end and that we did not understand.”

Investigators searched the family’s home Tuesday, where they seized cans of spray paint.

Police outside the Lunenburg  home of the Phillips family as investigators were inside collecting evidence on Tuesday.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Police outside the Lunenburg home of the Phillips family as investigators were inside collecting evidence on Tuesday.

At the Lunenburg Police Department Wednesday, Lieutenant Mike Luth said that Brazier was the only active suspect in the case and that his officers are working with the Worcester district attorney’s office and the US attorney’s office “to plan a course of action that’s best for the situation.” He said that an arrest was not imminent. Officials at the Worcester district attorney’s office declined to comment.

The discovery of the graffiti on Nov. 15 led school officials to cancel the football team’s season and stirred deep concerns in the town. But authorities have since said that the football team has been cleared.

“Most of the leads that we have followed up throughout the investigation have led back toward the house,” Luth said.

The graffiti, which included a racist slur, was first reported Nov. 15, by Brazier, who is white. Her husband, Anthony J. Phillips, is black, and their son, Isaac Phillips, who played on Lunenburg’s freshman and junior varsity teams, is biracial.

Days after the vandalism, several hundred residents gathered in the center of town for a candlelight vigil to show their support for 13-year-old Isaac Phillips, who has since transferred to a school in a neighboring town.

The elder Phillips had told reporters that his son had been harassed by his teammates. The comments apparently led police to first focus their attention on the team.

But according to the documents made public on Wednesday, police observed two burnt aerosol cans in a fire pit outside the family’s house on Nov. 18. Anthony Phillips gave authorities three different accounts of where the cans had come from, according to investigators.

On Nov. 19, Brazier told investigators her 6-year-old daughter told her that she had seen someone outside her bedroom window who had blue hair, a feathered headdress, and a pink nose. Brazier said she went outside the night of Nov. 14 to show her daughter that no one was out there, the affidavit said.

She also told police during that interview that she had heard a Lunenburg football player make a racial comment at a Worcester South High School football game Nov. 1 and another player make a racial comment during the junior varsity game against the same school on Nov. 4. School officials said those incidents had been confirmed.

Brazier told investigators Nov. 25 that neither her husband nor their son had spray-painted their home.

“She was emotionally upset and crying and was saying we did not understand,’’ said the affidavit, which outlined the police investigation and asked for a warrant to search the home.

Police said that during the search of the Chase Road home Tuesday, they seized one can of Krylon indoor/outdoor spray paint and one can of Krylon Fusion spray paint. Court documents did not identify the paint colors. Police also said they seized five live shotgun shells.

The sharp turn in the investigation sparked a mix of concern and outrage among students and parents at the school.

“It’s pretty shocking, if it’s really his mom,” said Sam Sargent, 15, a sophomore who plays on the varsity basketball team. “If it’s true, she didn’t just put her son through a lot; she put this whole town through a lot.”

Cathy Hennessy, 46, who has three children in Lunenburg schools, said she could not understand why someone would do such a thing.

“This isn’t that kind of town,” she said. “If it was the mother, that’s just really sad.”

Sean Cunningham, 14, an eighth-grader who described himself as a close friend of Isaac Phillips, said he had been to the house many times over the years.

He called Brazier a “very nice lady.”

“I don’t see why she would do such a thing and have our school disgraced,” he said.

He said he has not spoken to his friend since the allegations against his mother surfaced. “I can’t imagine he’s doing well,” Cunningham said. “I feel really bad for him.”

The elder Phillips declined to respond to questions Wednesday afternoon outside the family home, where “no trespassing signs” have been placed.

In a statement, Superintendent Loxi Calmes called the school’s experience “unprecedented.” She said that the cancellation of the football season was not a punishment, but was done as a matter of safety. School personnel had met with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, the US Justice Department, and the Center for Community Development and Civic Engagement at Fitchburg State University, she said, in attempt to find a path forward.

“No community should ever have to experience something like this,” she said. “It has challenged, angered, and saddened us. We are trying to get to a place of healing and unity.”

Globe correspondent Jennifer Fenn Lefferts contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.
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