One of the most unsettling stories from Superstorm Sandy involves the deaths of two brothers, Connor and Brandon Moore, ages 4 and 2. Rising water tore them from their mother's arms in Staten Island on Monday evening.
The boys are the storm's youngest known victims, and that they died is sad enough. But there is also outrage brewing over the circumstances under which they died. News reports say their mother, Glenda Moore, was fleeing Staten Island with her children in the back of her SUV, headed for a relative's home in Brooklyn, when her car plunged into a watery ditch. She and her sons got out, clinging to tree branches for some time until Moore sought help.
A CNN report says Moore later told police that she approached a nearby house where the occupant would not let her in. She then tried to enter through the back, hoping to break in using a flower pot. That didn't work. Eventually, the water swept her children away. Their bodies were found yesterday after a lengthy search.
The owner of the home, identified by CNN only as Alan, told CNN that he only saw a man, that this man threw a concrete flower pot at his door, and that afterward "I had to stay there all night. I sat all night with my back against the door in the kitchen....He didn't ask to come in, he asked me to come out and help him."
Glenda Moore is black. Alan is not.
While many elements of this story are still unknown, the potential role of race is starting to bubble into the reaction: Could the fact that the stranger in the storm was a person of color, male or female, have in any way affected what happened?
Here is Alan's story, from CNN's transcripted interview:
"He didn't come to the door. ... He must have been standing at the bottom of the stairs," said the man. "He took a concrete flower pot ... and threw [it] through the door."
The man at the door didn't ask to enter the house, he said, but instead asked him to come outside in order to help.
"What could I do to help him?" he asked. "I had a pair of shorts on with flip-flops."
The man told CNN he sat up for the rest of the night, with his back against the door in the kitchen.
He said he did not know the fate of the children. Told that their bodies had been found, he said the deaths were a tragedy, but implied that the woman was at fault.
"It's unfortunate. She shouldn't have been out, though. You know, it's one of those things," he said.
He said there was nothing he could have done. "I'm not a rescue worker. ... If I would have been outside, I would have been dead."
Many news stories so far, including the CNN piece, have not noted Glenda Moore's race. That's becoming a part of the story as news agencies release photos of a grieving Moore and her husband, who is white. Under a Gothamist post that didn't feature her photo, this simple note from a reader identified as e non:
the mother is black.
Another reader, FU Boy, tried to understand the homeowner's point of view:
People could have thought it was a hoax or ploy to let down their guard. Middle of a huge storm, authorities are occupied elsewhere. And someone giving a horrible sob story to get into your house.
Horrible thing to think but it's about all I can think of for why people wouldn't help.
Meanwhile, some blogs have been pointing out Moore's race, including a piece on ColorLines suggesting that Moore knocked on other doors unsuccessfully, and another on Jezebel pointing out that Staten Island's population was 64 percent white in 2010, and that less than 10 percent of its population was black.
Again, details on this story are still emerging. But it raises some questions worth asking: If a stranger came to your house during a deadly storm — or after a major earthquake — would you let him or her in? Would your neighbors? In your neighborhood, would a person who looks like Glenda Moore have a hard time getting help? Please share your thoughts below.