In the week before former Riverhead school superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez unexpectedly resigned her position in June, she received three notes containing racial and ethnic slurs and warning her “resign or you will suffer.”
Henriquez found the first note on the windshield of her vehicle, parked outside her Patchogue home, at about 7 a.m. on Monday, June 22, according to an incident report obtained from the Suffolk County Police Department through a Freedom of Information Law request. The note was accompanied by the head and arm of a brown-skinned doll with long black hair described by police as a “Barbie doll.”
“Beaner! Go!! Resign!! You will suffer if you won’t leave We hate your kind!” was handwritten on the envelope. Inside were the doll head and arm, according to the police report.
Henriquez called the SCPD Fifth precinct that morning to report the incident, the police report states. A detective from the Suffolk County Police Hate Crimes Unit responded to the Fifth Precinct to interview Henriquez. The envelope and doll parts were taken into evidence, the report states.
On Thursday of that week, two other notes arrived by U.S. Mail in the superintendent’s office, according to the police reports. Both were handwritten and contained similar messages.
“Why are you still here? We warned you and told you to go! This town does not need more dirty Mexican illegals like you. Resign or you will suffer. What about white lives? Take all the illegals with you. We hate you. We hate your kind. We are tired of paying taxes to educate illegals. It is killing us. We will find a way to clean house. This town does not need dirty sp—- and n—!!”
The other note addresses the superintendent and a school board member — though the envelope it arrived in was addressed to Henriquez alone. It also speaks of “warning” the superintendent. “We do not need a sp— illegal dirty leading our school,” it says. “Get her out or we will. White lives matter. This is a Republican white town. Send all illegals out! Back! Build a wall in Riverhead! Get Dr. H out! Hard working tax payers want a white leader. The unions hate her. Dirty Mexican sp—s serve food. They don’t belong in schools!”
The three notes in June were not the first received by the superintendent. She received a very similar note in August 2018. It read, “Dr Henriquez, We do not want darkies here in Riverhead. Leave now You will never have success in Riverhead. Go back to Brentwood. No one wants your kind leading Riverhead. Go away! We will make it difficult for you! GO!”
Riverhead Police referred the 2018 note and the two received in June to the Suffolk County Police Hate Crimes Unit, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said. Hegermiller said Henriquez’s June 25 report is the subject of an ongoing investigation in Riverhead.
Suffolk County Police determined Henriquez’s complaints to be “founded” but closed their investigation “due to the complainant’s unwillingness to cooperate.”
Henriquez declined to comment on the incidents or their resolution, but issued a statement that said, “To safeguard my family’s privacy and safety, I wasn’t interested in pursuing this any further.”
Henriquez was hired by the Riverhead Central School District in 2017 after serving 23 years in the Brentwood Union Free School District, where she served as assistant superintendent for a decade.
She resigned the position within days of receiving the pair of notes in the mail on June 25 at the district office — one week after finding the note and doll parts on her SUV outside her home.
The last school year was a difficult one for the superintendent. During her final month of employment in Riverhead, the superintendent was dogged by unsubstantiated rumors of a purported scandal that spread rampantly on Facebook and were the subject of much discussion in a Facebook group dubbed Riverhead Town Association of Concerned Citizens. The district’s proposed budget failed by a wide margin in June — and that followed a capital improvement plan and bond being rejected by voters in February. Riverhead’s growing Latino population was a subject bubbling just beneath the surface in both elections, with debates over student performance, the cost of ENL programs and alleged overcrowded, illegal housing in Riverhead burdening local schools.
Suffolk’s Hate Crimes Unit reported the hate mail incidents to the Suffolk County Anti-Bias Task Force at the task force’s July meeting — without identifying the victim or any identifying details of the incidents.
The Suffolk County Anti-Bias Task Force informed the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force of the hate speech incident in Riverhead, Riverhead ABTF chairperson Connie Lassandro said in an interview.
“When I heard about it I called the chief and he acknowledged it and said it was an open investigation,” Lassandro said. She said the task force was not informed of the 2018 incident.
The police chief is a member of the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force. The Riverhead Police Department’s policy is to keep the Riverhead ABTF apprised of bias incidents that come to the department’s attention, Hegermiller said in an email yesterday.
“This isn’t a straightforward hate mail investigation and releasing any information would be premature,” he said.
Suffolk’s Hate Crimes Unit notifies the task force of hate incidents, including all hate crimes being investigated,” a county spokesperson said. “The Anti-Bias Task Force has the ability to work as a liaison with the community if the department needs their assistance.” Hate Crimes detectives participate in monthly meetings with the county Anti-Bias Task Force “to maintain a constant dialogue and direct interaction to address hate in Suffolk County,” she said.
It is not clear whether or when the bias incident reports were shared with the school district.
“As the interim superintendent of the Riverhead Central School District, I thoroughly condemn anyone who engages in racist or biased behavior,” Interim Superintendent Christine Tona said today.
“I am not in a position to comment specifically on the letters received by Dr. Henriquez, but I can say without equivocation that racism, bias, bigotry and hatred have no place in our society and I will do everything I can to ensure that our schools operate with fairness, equity, and tolerance,” Tona said.
Board of Education president Laurie Downs said today she was not authorized by the board to speak about the matter.
“I cannot speak for the board. I can only speak for myself,” Downs said, “but personally I condemn any racist comments and any acts of racism.”
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