A tense situation turned downright ugly about 11:45 a.m.
Over on Bronson Avenue, John Szych had just spent 40 minutes telling a Blade reporter that he held the neo-Nazis in contempt for the way he and his son, Thomas Szych, felt they had been used by them.
Yes, the Szychs had an ongoing feud with reputed gang members in North Toledo. But Mr. Szych was emphatic that he in no way encouraged the neo-Nazis to intervene and gather here on their behalf.
Around 11:55 a.m., everyone in the neighborhood heard the same thing: A loud boom.
Police had just fired the first of what eventually would become a countless number of tear gas canisters deployed on Mulberry Street to break up hostile mobs.
The senior Mr. Szych was standing in the front yard of his Bronson Avenue home telling a friend he should have trusted his gut instincts and gotten out of the neighborhood when he had the chance. That’s what his son had done.
“It’s too late,” Mr. Szych told the person on the other end of the phone line. “I’m trapped.”
Seconds later, Mr. Szych ran for cover inside his house when he saw a mob approaching.
Rocks, bricks, and chunks of mortar went crashing through windows.
“I ain’t takin’ this,” he fumed, making a beeline for a back room where he said he had been storing a handgun. He returned to the porch, which by then had been trashed by the mob, and fired six warning shots.
“You want more?” he yelled.
Mr. Szych returned to the back room of his house and reloaded his weapon. Police, at that point, had not been seen on Bronson.
Mr. Szych called somebody else, presumably 9-1-1. He relayed information about the vandalism to the person on the other end of that line, informing them that they’d better get officers to his house immediately.
“I’ve got a gun and I’m not afraid to use it,” he stammered.
Within a couple of minutes, four or five police officers dressed in riot gear showed up on Mr. Szych’s property. They left less than five minutes later, after the mobs ran elsewhere, to assist other officers.
“See what I mean?” Mr. Szych barked as he walked over the broken glass on his porch. “I didn’t do a damned thing to deserve that.”
No, Mr. Szych wasn’t looking for anybody to taunt in the moments leading up to the riot.
But taunts were thrown his way. At one point, a white passer-by sneered as the melee gained momentum.
“Got what you wanted, John?” asked the man, who refused to give his name.
Yet Mr. Szych wasn’t alone in claiming that his neighborhood has been plagued by crime.
Three or four neighbors came over while Mr. Szych was being interviewed, backing up what he said about past violence.
Those who gathered on Mr. Szych’s lawn prior to yesterday’s riots claimed the problems go beyond reputed gang activity. They said there has been prostitution, break-ins, graffiti involving racial slurs, and daylight beatings and robberies of women.
“People make it sound like it’s a clean-cut neighborhood in Perrysburg and it’s not,” said a man who identified himself as a neighbor but declined to give his name. “People want to make it out like it’s a few people and it’s not,” he added.
Mr. Szych said the neo-Nazis came to Toledo only because city officials, including police, have not done enough to keep their neighborhood safe.
“That leaves the opportunity for a bunch of idiots to come to town,” he said. “I don’t need them to defend my rights.”
Mr. Szych said he has had absolutely no contact with the neo-Nazis and is willing to do whatever it takes to prove it to authorities. He said he has offered to let the FBI examine his telephone records and his computer.
He said he met privately with area preachers at the Erase the Hate event at the Zablocki Center on Lagrange Street.
“I explicitly told them this was not our doing,” he said.
A daughter, who declined to give her name, said her father and her brother have been unfairly accused of being aligned with the neo-Nazis.
Mr. Szych said the ordeal has put stress on the family during a difficult year. In January, his wife passed away of a heart attack. Mr. Szych said he has resumed smoking, despite his doctor’s advice to the contrary after having undergone heart surgery.
He said neo-Nazis “have no right to be here.”
“I just want to be left alone in peace,” Mr. Szych said.
Sadly, he said, few people cared about the reputed violence until the Nazis announced plans to gather there. “Now, everyone wants to know,” he said.
Mr. Szych said he’s scared about what might happen now.