Police released surveillance images Thursday of a man wanted in connection with vandalizing a downtown business and said the New Year's Day incident is being investigated as a hate crime.
The suspect spray-painted anti-gay slurs on the In Your Wildest Dreams consignment store at 716 19th St., police said.
The man is described as white, 35 to 40 years old, 5 feet 10 inches, 200 pounds. He wore blue jeans, a navy blue sweatshirt with white lettering and black shoes.
Anyone with information regarding the suspect's identity is asked to call Detective Randy Petris at 326-3554 or the Bakersfield Police Department at 327-7111.
It's relatively rare in Kern County for police to classify criminal acts as hate crimes, but it's not unheard of.
In 2017, an Oildale man affiliated with a white supremacist gang was sentenced to 15 years in prison for firing a shotgun and shouting a racist slur at a Latino man and his family. The crime occurred in December 2012.
And in 2016, a Bakersfield man pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges in connection with threatening and throwing a drink at a Sikh man outside a California Avenue restaurant.
According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were seven incidents of hate crimes reported in Bakersfield in 2017, the latest year complete data was available.
Four of the seven incidents involved bias against race/ethnicity/ancestry and three involved bias against sexual orientation.
The local numbers come as the nation as a whole saw a 17 percent increase in reported hate crimes in 2017 compared to the previous year.
Dixie Brewer, the owner of In Your Wildest Dreams, said Thursday she agrees with police that the actions of the stranger were motivated by hate.
"Honestly, all of us were just covered up with sadness," she said. "It's not about the gay community. It's about pure hate."
But then something happened, she said, that helped create beauty out of ugliness.
"I pull up this morning and there were groups of people, one person after another, coming into the store," Brewer said.
"Some wanted to shop, and some just wanted to chat. I was, like, this is amazing."
A younger woman brought in her grandmother, who she said had read the story in the newspaper that morning and felt the need to come and show her support. There was a girl with purple hair. There was a man with a beard. There was an elderly couple.
All there to lend not only their support, but their love.
"It was about human beings caring for one another," the shopkeeper said.
"Wow! These were people I've never seen in my life."
Californian reporter Jason Kotowski contributed to this report.