On the evening of December 23, three young men rang the McFarland doorbell of Christine and Brittany Fifarek. When their five-year-old daughter answered, the men shouted anti-gay slurs and vulgarities at the child and left.
When the hate crime incident happened, the Fifarek family was initially confused, shocked, and surprised. Christine posted a video of the perpetrators to a neighborhood group text chat and got immediate responses of support and comfort as neighbors went into a voluntary neighborhood watch mode. Christine said one neighbor searched local bars for the perpetrators, and another neighbor “ding dong ditched” a pint of ice cream and a bouquet of flowers.
Identified as Arena residents Cory Mellum, 24, and Bradley Behling, 24, and Malik Yrios, 23, of Madison, police found the men with the help of community members who viewed the video online (including a viral Tik Tok), and charged them with disorderly conduct and hate crimes.
Christine and Brittany are new residents of McFarland. They purchased their home after moving to Wisconsin from Washington, D.C. to live closer to Brittany’s extended family.
“We were initially concerned about living in Wisconsin, especially with it being a purple state, and we had some safety concerns with today’s climate,” said Christine. “We knew Madison had good opportunities for education, work, and hobbies. We had our hearts broken a few times when house hunting on the east side. Then, we extended our search to McFarland and found the perfect house. The street we live on is like one giant front yard where the kids play all the time. We’ve closed the street for a couple of block parties. In the end, we got exactly what we wanted in a neighborhood.”
Among the Fifareks’ neighbors is photographer Ruthie Hauge. She agreed that the neighborhood is like one big, extended family, and she knew she and the Fifarek family would be friends right away.
“The kids were excited to have a new friend on the block when they moved in,” said Hauge. “They are always out playing. They call themselves the bike gang because they ride their bikes everywhere and take over the street playing games. People watch out for each others’ kids and say hi to each other. Christine and Brittany are raising their daughter with respect—the kind of respect you would give an adult peer. Their daughter is so smart, independent, and kind. She will be an incredible grown-up some day.”
The outpouring of support by McFarland residents made a big difference in how the Fifarek family is dealing with what happened. Christine described how a neighbor brought a care package with coloring books, chocolates, and stuffed animals. Another neighbor went door-to-door handing out hand-held pride flags.
“I started seeing more and more pride flags around town, and that’s when I was able to really start processing what happened and how supportive the community has been,” said Christine. “People keep telling us and leaving comments online that (the hate crime) isn’t what happens in McFarland. Seeing their support really solidified our feelings about this community. It’s nice to put out a pride or progress sign, but our neighbors really put their beliefs into action and showed their support when it was needed. Now we know that we and our daughter are truly welcome here.”