Bawi Cung and his family were shopping for bread at a Texas grocery store when a 19-year-old man allegedly began waving a knife in their faces.
Jose Gomez III, is accused of stabbing Cung multiple times, then turning the blade on the man’s young sons, ages 2 and 6, police said. One boy was stabbed in the head, according to an arrest warrant obtained by Oxygen.com.
Gomez allegedly believed the family was carrying the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.
"The suspect indicated that he stabbed the family because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus," an FBI analysis obtained by ABC News stated.
Gomez is also accused of slicing open the leg of a store employee, who wrestled the knife away from the man. He was detained by an off-duty border patrol officer until authorities arrived, according to the Midland Reporter Telegram.
Gomez allegedly confessed to trying to kill the Cung family and was booked on attempted murder and assault charges. He was later tased repeatedly after allegedly punching two guards in a Midland County jailhouse. Authorities described him as “suicidal,” according to separate charging documents.
Federal agents, who are now investigating the stabbing as a possible hate crime, suspect the knife attack may have been racially driven — and fueled by the COVID-19 crisis.
“My office is actively investigating this incident to determine whether federal hate-crime charges are appropriate,” U.S. Attorney John Bash for the Western District of Texas said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com.
As virus death tolls soar, hate crimes targeting Asian Americans are also expected to increase, the FBI announced last week.
"Hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities," an FBI intelligence bulletin, obtained by ABC News, stated. "The FBI makes this assessment based on the assumption that a portion of the US public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations."
The report, authored by agents in Houston, was distributed to law enforcement agencies coast to coast. Officials declined to share the bulletin directly or comment on Gomez’s case but confirmed a civil rights investigation had been opened related to the shopping center knifing.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to remind everyone that any violent criminal act against any person because of their race, ethnicity or national origin is a hate crime,” a FBI spokesperson said in an email to Oxygen.com. “This includes violence toward Asian Americans or individuals from East Asian countries.”
The contagion has infected more than 1 million people in at least 171 countries — and killed more than 50,000 globally — since originating in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Some Americans, experts said, have formed the erroneous belief that the Chinese — and Asians of all nationalities — are responsible for the virus’ rapid spread.
“Unlike people, the virus does not discriminate — it has infected people of every race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, age, ability status, and religion,” author and psychologist Dr. Kevin Nadal, who serves as a national trustee for the Filipino American National Historical Society, told Oxygen.com.
“What is so egregious about this racism is that people think that Asian-Americans are spreading COVID-19 more than anyone else, when that simply isn’t true. So blaming one group is not just irresponsible, it is also legitimately ignorant.”
Asian-Americans have reported a wide spectrum of bigotry since the viral outbreak began.
Kyle Navarro, a 25-year-old Filipino-American nurse, claimed he was spit on by an "older white man" while unlocking his bicycle in San Francisco last week. He said he's now petrified to step foot in public amidst the lockdown.
“It temporarily paralyzed me — I was scared to go back out,” Navarro told Oxygen.com.
David Wang, 48, a New York lawyer, described a similar incident while walking to his car in Astoria, Queens earlier this year.
“A number of teenagers ran past me and one screamed out, ‘ching-chong-ching-chong,’ and then another one yelled, ‘coronavirus,’ and they all ran off,” Wang told Oxygen.com.
But in rarer cases, such as last month’s stabbing of the Cung family in Texas, coronavirus hate-mongering may have the potential to spark lethal rampages, some experts said.
“These biases can result not just in subtle types of discrimination, but can even result in violence and death,” Nadal stated.
Nadal, who compared the COVID-19 crisis to the explosive rise in hate crimes Muslims faced in post-9/11, pointed out that sinophobic attitudes have even festered in the highest offices of American government.
“The president’s insistence on referring to COVID-19 as the 'Chinese Virus' has emboldened anti-Asian bias," he added. "The increase in anti-Asian hate crimes is, without a doubt, a result of the racially charged rhetoric of COVID-19. Words matter.”
Yuh-Line Niou, an assemblywoman representing New York City’s 65th District, echoed that sentiment.
“There are two epidemics going on — the virus and xenophobia,” Niou, 36, who serves lower Manhattan, including Chinatown, told Oxygen.com.
New York City police also confirmed a rise in coronavirus hate crimes in the outbreak’s epicenter.
Eleven possible hate crimes targeting Asian Americans — ranging from harassment to assault — have been investigated since the outbreak began, a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department told Oxygen.com. Seven suspects have since been arrested, officials stated.
“We’ve seen particularly troubling instances of discrimination directed at Asian communities, particularly the Chinese,” Mayor Bill De Blasio said. “This is unacceptable. … It must be reported to the NYPD so we can act on it, so we can find the perpetrators, so there will be consequences, so we can stop someone from doing it to another person.”
The Cung family in Texas, who survived last month’s grocery store stabbing, are reportedly recovering from the ordeal. They didn’t respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on Thursday.
Gomez, the 19-year-old accused in the knife attack, is currently in custody and is being held on a $1 million bond. His public defender, Woody Leverett, declined to comment on the case.
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