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Title: For Annadale Wiccan family, tensions brew with neighbors
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From: USA
Registered: 11/21/2008

(Date Posted:02/18/2009 23:01 PM)
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For Annadale Wiccan family, tensions brew with neighbors

Family that follows the ancient religion rooted in witchcraft says threats and vandalisim are proof of religious persecution
Sunday, March 02, 2008

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- It's a perfectly ordinary, prosperous South Shore neighborhood with the usual accouterments: Manicured lawns and hedges, well-maintained split-levels, late-model rides in the driveways.

All in all, more ho-hum than hocus-pocus, you might say.

Except for the house with the witchy weather vane and cauldron out front. And the massive stained-glass pentacle. And the two residents who say their devotion to Wicca -- a religion rooted in ancient witchcraft -- has made them the victims of neighborhood ridicule and harassment.

Ivy Colmer Vanderborgh, her husband and her mother live in one half of a duplex on Oceanview Avenue.

Their Annadale neighbors say they are disrupting the neighborhood.

But the Colmer Vanderborgh family claims those same neighbors are persecuting them because of their religion.

Ms. Colmer Vanderborgh and her mother, Marlene Colmer, both practice Wicca. They contend that since their appearance on a Staten Island Community Television show about their religion in June 2006, neighbors have they have been verbally harassed, their car has been vandalized, their property damaged and their dog poisoned.

"This is a witch hunt," said Marlene Colmer.

"This is like what you see on TV, and it's scary," said Ivy Colmer Vanderborgh. "I am afraid."

But the street runs two ways.

A neighbor, Thomas Castano, says the women have been harassing neighbors via threatening letters and fliers in their mailboxes to the effect that the mother-daughter duo had sensed a spirit in their house, or threatening to cast a spell.

Castano, a former city police officer, said that friends who visit find fliers under their windshield wipers telling them they're under a spell.

And the family makes an unholy racket, often in the pre-dawn hours, Castano said. Once he saw a pot come sailing out of a window during an argument.

The tension escalated when the Colmer Vanderborgh's cocker spaniel, Buffy, died.

The family claims the dog was killed after eating rat poison-tainted meatball that had been tossed into their yard. After the incident, neighbors reported finding fliers in their mailboxes saying that Buffy had been killed, and that justice would be served.

The family now blames Castano for the dog's death and the other acts of vandalism.

Castano claims he knew nothing about the incident until he received one of the fliers.

The situation came to a boil last Sept. 11.

Ivy's husband, Harry, was alone in his home when he watched on his security monitor as Castano threw a plate of cat food at Vanderborgh's truck, he said. He called out his door "Thanks a lot, Tom," which prompted Castano to run at the house, he said.

When he couldn't get in, Castano began pounding the door and overturned the curbside mailbox, Vanderborgh said. That account is a tissue of lies, Castano said.

In his version, he returned home from work and stood outside talking to a different neighbor for a few minutes. He noticed that the Colmer Vanderborgh mailbox was knocked over and assumed it had happened during one of their arguments. After saying good-bye to his friend, he went into his home.

Thirteen days later, on Sept. 24, Castano was arrested.

Ivy Colmer Vanderborgh says the lag time was due to the police discriminating against the family for religious reasons.

"The police told us to get back in our house and shut up," said Ms. Colmer Vanderborgh.

She and her mother deemed that the 14th Amendment, which grants equal protection under the law to all citizens, had been violated. The family claims that because the police treated them unfairly because they are Wiccans.

Castano says the arrest was delayed because Harry Vanderborgh had not initially claimed that Castano destroyed the property. Castano said that Vanderborgh originally had stated that the culprit was unknown, and it wasn't until later that he changed his story to blame Castano.

Three days later, on Sept. 27, the Colmer Vanderborghs obtained a six-month order of protection against Castano.

Since the incident, the family claims their house has been egged. Without offering evidence, they say they believe that Castano is paying children to vandalize their property.

Another neighbor said it he's not sure whether the Colmer Vanderborghs damaged their own property during one of their loud arguments. The neighbor, who declined to be identified, said he routinely hears loud "fighting and screaming" coming from their house in the middle of the night, even though he lives more than 100 feet away.

"They're pretty strange, they're pretty loud, pretty disruptive," the neighbor said. "We just basically stay away from them."

Another neighbor, Mike Grasso, said, though he's heard stories about the neighborhood squabble, he hasn't encountered any problems firsthand.

"I have no problems with them," he said. "I've never really talked with them or had anything to do with them."

As for Castano, he said he feels he is being targeted for no good reason.

He said that he never committed any of the acts of vandalism that the Colmer Vanderborghs accuse him of, nor had he even had much contact with the family before the incident. Since then, he said, he feels as though the family is trying to incite him into violating the order of protection.

"What was done to me is completely wrong," he said. "It's just wrong."

Castano has an open case of misdemeanor criminal mischief still pending. The most recent hearing was adjourned to August "in contemplation of dismissal," meaning that the charges will be dropped if he avoids trouble until that time.

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