LEROY TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- The owner of a gay bar believes a fire set inside his home earlier this year was a hate crime and he is now trying to turn up the heat on the arsonist.
On April 6, someone broke into Billy Welker’s home in Lake County’s Leroy Township, spray painted anti-gay slurs on a basement wall, spread gasoline around the house and then set it on fire.
Welker believes he was targeted because he is the owner of All Axs, a gay bar that had recently opened in downtown Willoughby.
"Close minded person because once again, it's 2019, everybody has a right to be everywhere," said Welker.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office initially offered a $5000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist and Billy Welker's family has now tripled the reward to $15,000.
Welker told Fox 8, "hopefully that will get somebody to talk about something and lead to an arrest and a conviction of whoever did this."
His father, Dan Welker, added “I mean that is a hate crime. The house was broken into and they wanted to make sure that the place was burned down. I think somebody has a lot of anger in their heart and a lot of hate."
When questioned by investigators, Billy Welker told them he is convinced the arsonist is the same person who waged an anonymous campaign against his bar when he opened the business.
"The only thing I could say is that I would try to find whoever made some of the derogatory phone calls to the bar or posted the derogatory posters at the bar. That's all I can come up with, because those were the only incidents I had up until this," he said.
Anyone with information about the arson is asked to call the Lake County Sheriff’s Office or the State Fire Marshal’s Office.