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Heber concert raises family's hopes, spirits

HEBER CITY — Since part of the hotel her family owns was doused with accelerant and set on fire last month, Samina Tabesh worries those responsible will return.

She worries constantly — about the safety of her family and practical things such as money and housing — to the point it disturbs her sleep.

She says she takes anti-anxiety medication and insomnia medication.

"There are no words to express how I feel," she said.

But Monday night, she and other family members relaxed and were smiling during a benefit concert held in their honor. The concert featured ethnic dancing and singing as well as performances by local musicians. About 80 people from the Heber Valley and the Wasatch Front attended the event.

The event was arranged by Farmington resident Shellie Reich, who said the close timing of the fire to July 24 spurred her to act.

"I have a strong sense of responsibility to preserve the peace and freedom my (pioneering ancestors) gave me," Reich said.

"Shellie is like an angel to us.

When she said she wanted to do something about this, I thought she meant flowers," said Mazhar Tabesh, a co-owner of the Alpine Lodge, which had $100,000 in damage from a July 21 fire that gutted nine rooms. Authorities determined the fire was intentionally set.

Reich said concertgoers and other donors have raised about $1,369 for the family in the past month.

Mazhar Tabesh said the family appreciates the money because they desperately need it. They cannot rent rooms because the telephone system is not working. Companies that insure the hotel require working phones. The family became homeless after the fire and has lived in a Salt Lake hotel. Each month there are bills to pay. The family and insurance adjustors say repair will begin at the earliest in two months.

"We had a little fire. We were quite stressed. But they can't run their business," said Yaser Nisar, owner of Curry in a Hurry, 2020 S. State, which had about $1,000 in paint and siding damage after an arsonist started a fire because he was angry about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. James Michael Herrick was sentenced to prison for four years for that fire.

"I'm kind of disappointed this is still happening. It's just stupid," Nisar said.

Although family, friends and those who attended Monday's concert believe the fire is a hate crime against the Tabesh family because they are Muslim and originally from Pakistan, Heber police Sgt. Jason Bradley said a motive has not been determined.

"We can't really say, 'Yeah, for sure this is a hate crime,' " Bradley said.

The release of a composite sketch of a man who paid for a room with cash and was missing after the fire has generated several phone calls. Police are following all leads, Bradley said.

The man's room is one of several areas where accelerant was poured. Evidence from the room is being analyzed in the state crime lab. Crime lab personnel will analyze handwriting on an illegible registration slip the man filled out and perform chemical tests on the accelerant, Bradley said.

The police also have fingerprints and possibly DNA evidence, Mazhar Tabesh said.

Heber City Mayor Lynn Adams said the benefit concert was an example of the "true heart of this community.

"We must do more as a community to watch over our neighbors," he said.

Midway residents Jeanette Baron and Sherry Bolca watched the performances to support the Tabesh family.

"I think it's long overdue. This should have been done a long time ago," Baron said.