The caravan of racist thugs who terrorized a child’s birthday party has long passed. But trying to explain racism to the traumatized children is a challenge Melissa Alford still grapples with today.
“They’re confused. They’re trying to figure out … what transpired,” said Alford, who hosted the party in Douglas County, Georgia.
“One of my grandbabies (is) white. So how am I supposed to explain the difference between white and black when she don’t see that?”
It’s been two years since a parade of trucks carrying Confederate flags roared passed Alford’s party, hurling insults at the black partygoers.
The party celebrated the birthdays of several neighborhood children, including Alford’s grandson.
Kids enjoying a bouncy house and a snow cone machine were suddenly interrupted by members of the caravan who had “threatened to kill the party goers while repeatedly using derogatory racial slurs against them,” the Douglas County district attorney’s office said.
An adult from the party called 911, saying the group was armed with knives, guns and tire irons.
“We are having a party, and these white guys pulled out rebel flags and stuff, holding a shotgun on us and stuff. They pulling rifles out on us. It’s like five trucks with white guys with rebel flags,” the caller said.
“Please send somebody before somebody gets shot!”
On Monday, two members of that group were given steep sentences for their roles that day.
Jose “Joe” Torres was sentenced to 13 years in prison after a jury convicted him on three counts of aggravated assault, one count of making terroristic threats and one count of violating of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Kayla Norton was sentenced to six years in prison after she was convicted of making terroristic threats and violating the Street Gang Act.
After the sentencing, Alford told HLN’s Ashleigh Banfield that she forgave Torres and Norton.
“I’m not going around hating anyone,” she said Tuesday night.
But the sentences don’t make the job of explaining racism to kids any easier. She said children from the party are still confused.
“How (are) the other kids supposed to explain white and black when there’s white and black people at the party?” Alford said. “There’s no color when you’re at my house. So now we’ve got to explain to them what happened.”
Defendants banished from Douglas County
There’s a chance the children at Alford’s party will never have to see Torres and Norton again. That’s because in addition to their stiff prison sentences, both are forbidden to return to Douglas County, west of Atlanta, after they get out of prison.
During the investigation, authorities looked through Torres’ and Norton’s Facebook accounts.
“Law enforcement was able to locate numerous posts and messages indicating that members of the group were white supremacists who discussed attending KKK rallies, joining Skinheads Nation, and making numerous derogatory remarks about African Americans as a whole,” the DA’s statement said.
CNN has tried to reach the two defendants’ lawyers for comment, but have not received a response.
After Judge Beau McClain handed down the sentences, both Torres and Norton broke down in tears.
“I want you all to know that is not me. That is not me, that is not him,” Norton told the courtroom. “I would never walk up to you and say those words to you. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I am so sorry.”
Hyesha Bryant, who was at the party, had her own words for Norton.
“What you said affected my life. It affected my children’s lives,” Bryant said.
Still, Bryant said, “I forgive you, I forgive all of you.”
CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin, Mayra Cuevas and Ralph Ellis contributed to this report.
By Holly Yan, CNN