A local family talked one-on-one with WUSA9 about being targets of KKK.
ARLINGTON, VA. (WUSA9) - It was 1977, during the finale of the TV mini-series Roots, when the Butler family got a phone call at their College Park home.
Phillip Butler jumped up from the couch and answered. It was a call from a neighbor telling him a cross was burning in his front yard.
The flaming wood stood at least 7-feet tall, something the Butlers had never seen before.
“I go out there and look,” Phillip Butler said. “What did I do? From then on we had to watch where we [went].”
The family was scared but also very angry.
One act of hatred ruined what was supposed to be the beginning of Barbara and Phillip Butler’s happily ever after.
They were newlyweds who had just moved into the neighborhood.
Police discovered a leader in the Ku Klux Klan was responsible for the cross burning.
William Aitcheson was a University of Maryland student in his 20’s at the time. He was convicted of the crime and served 90 days in jail.
Aitcheson was also ordered to pay the family more than $20,000.
The Butlers never saw any of that money, but they still found a way to cope and move on from the incident.
“We had to leave those memories…try to leave those memories behind,” Phillip Butler said.
However, the Butler family was forced to relive one of the darkest moments of their lives when Aitcheson, who is now a priest in Virginia, revealed his previous involvement with the Ku Klux Klan.
“It’s unreal. A priest? I never thought that this is what he changed over to,” Phillip Butler, who is a Catholic, said.
Aitcheson said his past was not a secret, but he felt compelled to make it more public after seeing images of violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The priest, now 62, described his past actions as despicable: "To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry. I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me."
The Diocese of Arlington initially said that for the good of the parish, Aitcheson is taking a voluntary leave of absence from ministerial duties at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax. Through the diocese, he has declined interview requests.
Ted Williams, the Butler’s attorney, said he believes Aitcheson, who became a priest in Nevada before eventually transferring to Virginia, came forward only because he felt he was going to be exposed.
He questioned Aitcheson's statement that the Charlottesville rally prompted his public mea culpa, after so many other racial flash points over the decades.
The Butlers said the revelation of Aitcheson’s priesthood and discovering that he lives just miles away has reopened old wounds.
“You just went back 40 years ago. It went back 40 years ago, and we said here we go again,” Phillip Butler said.
The Butler family said they are no longer sad or scared. Instead, they are angry and want Aitcheson to apologize and pay the money he owes with interest.