Story highlights

Police are investigating assault and arson they're calling a "hate crime" in Lincoln, Nebraska

The victim, 33, has words carved into her skin and painted on her walls, an officer says

A neighbor says the woman came to her door in the middle of the night, naked and bleeding

The woman is openly lesbian and "the best neighbor," a friend says

CNN  — 

Three masked men allegedly bound a woman and carved words into her skin, police in Lincoln, Nebraska, said Monday.

The incident has been classified as a hate crime because a derogatory term for lesbians was painted inside the home, said Officer Katie Flood, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Police Department.

Someone had carved words into the woman’s body, police said, but investigators declined to elaborate. In addition, someone poured gasoline around the house and lit it, but the fire did little damage, police said.

After the attack, the woman made her way to the home of a neighbor, Linda Rappl, who said she feared bad news about her husband, who is in hospice, when she heard someone knocking on her door before dawn Sunday.

What she saw instead was her 33-year-old neighbor, she said, naked and bleeding.

“I was in shock,” Rappl said. “She was naked, her hands were tied with zip ties. All I could see was a cut across her forehead and blood running down.”

The woman was sobbing. Rappl, 68, brought her neighbor inside and wrapped her in a blanket before calling 911.

“She had cuts on her arms and legs but I didn’t want to humiliate her and stare,” she said.

It looked like she had endured torture, Rappl said.

“Some of the blood that was on her – that had run down her legs – was dried so I don’t know how long it was before she got away.”

When word got out about the attack – and the words carved into the woman’s skin and painted onto the walls – people responded with anger and sadness on social media.

Word of the incident spread quickly, said Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, a non-profit organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community in Lincoln. Members of the LGBT community organized a vigil at the capitol building Sunday night that he estimates more than 500 people attended.

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“The most powerful thing to me was the amount of people there, the amount of people that wanted to support and say this is not something we’re going to stand for in our community,” he said.

The city and its police force will do everything they can to “ensure that justice is done,” Mayor Chris Beutler said Monday.

“Hate crimes are despicable and appalling to me and to all Lincoln residents,” the mayor said in a statement. “Lincoln strives to be a community that embraces tolerance and equality. We stand united with our gay and lesbian citizens in denouncing violence directed at any group.”

Though Rappl couldn’t attend the vigil, she said it is good for the woman “to know how many people care about her and support her.”

The women have been neighbors for about seven years and have become good friends, she said.

Rappl said her neighbor recently lost her job and had been spending her time volunteering with local children.

“Apparently, though, through that job someone let her know that she had no business working with children because she was a lesbian,” Rappl said. “She is a wonderful, beautiful person. I couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.”

The woman lives openly as a lesbian, Richard said.

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She helps her rake leaves and shovel snow, Rappl said; she also mows the lawn each week for neighbors who don’t have mowers.

“She even apologized to my foster son for waking him up,” she said.

She said the woman is out of the hospital and staying in an emergency shelter.

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