Shayne Howe was frightened for his family when he saw a two-metre-tall cross burning on the front lawn of his Nova Scotia home and heard racial epithets uttered early Sunday morning.

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Michelle Lyon and Shayne Howe are worried about the safety of their children.

Police said they are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Howe is black and his partner, Michelle Lyon, is white. The couple and their children live in a small community in Hants County, north of Halifax. Howe is the only black person in the community.

"I just seen a big cross out there, and it was on fire and it had the rope around the neck, and it was hanging down, and it was on fire. It was about seven feet tall," he said Monday.

"By the time I got outside, there was nobody around. All we heard was, 'Die, n----r, die.' I was scared for my kids and my life. I don't know what is going to happen next. If it's a joke, then I don't know what it is. I don't know how to take it."

Howe said when he saw the burning cross he thought of the Ku Klux Klan.

"What else can you think of?" he asked.

Family terrified

Lyon said the family was terrorized by the act.

"We were terrified, just terrified. We didn't know if they were still around the house, we didn't know if they were coming back, we didn't know why this had happened. We had no idea," she said.

"We're very well respected in the community. I've been here a long time and Shayne's been here for quite awhile now. Nothing of this sort has ever happened, so we were just kind of in awe and shock of the whole ordeal. It's like something you'd see in the movies, not real life."

Howe, who has lived in the community for six years, said he has never experienced this level of racism before.

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All that's left is a charred piece of wood. ((CBC))

"It's 2010. That's supposed to be gone. It wasn't even around when I was a kid," Howe said. "I got called a few names, big deal, but it wasn't nothing like this. That's not a joke to me, that's not a prank."

Howe said he considers the cross burning a threat but doesn't believe anyone in the community did it.

"I can't see it being a community thing. I'm respecting the community. If I'm outside, they're waving. There's absolutely no reason for anybody to do that," he said.

"If it's a hate crime, then I've got to pack up and get my family out out of here. It's not that I'm running, but I've got to protect my children."

Hate crime investigation

The first thing the family did Monday was look for a new home because they're afraid of what may happen next. Lyon said the family fears their house may be set on fire.

RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Brigdit Leger said police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

"In this case, with the burning of the cross, and the use of racial terms, we are absolutely exploring the avenue that this may be a hate crime," Leger said.

Police have no suspects yet, and anyone with information is asked to contact RCMP or Crime Stoppers.