A 21-year-old Texas man pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges after he brutally attacked and blamed an Asian family whom he believed to be Chinese for the Covid-19 pandemic, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Jose Gomez III saw a Burmese family with three young children enter a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas, on the evening of March 14, 2020, and, believing they were Chinese, followed them into the store, according to a criminal complaint.
Gomez grabbed kitchen knives that were being sold at the store and attacked the family, slashing the father and a child who was then 6 years old, according to the complaint. He also stabbed an employee in the leg after he tried to intervene, the complaint added.
Gomez later admitted to authorities he had attacked the family and that he targeted the father, who he believed to be Chinese, and “whoever I think came from the country who started spreading the disease around.” He said that he intended to kill the father and also admitted to targeting the children, the complaint said.
“The defendant violently and horrifically attacked an unsuspecting innocent family because of how they looked and where he thought they came from,” US Attorney Ashley C. Hoff, of the Western District of Texas, said in a statement. “This type of hate-based violence has no place in our society and will not be tolerated. These victims and others who suffer such brutal, hate-based attacks deserve justice and to live without fear in our communities.”
Hate crimes across the US have risen since the onset of the pandemic, including attacks on Asian Americans, who are often brutally – and sometimes fatally – targeted and erroneously blamed for the pandemic.
In San Francisco, anti-Asian hate crimes spiked 567% in 2021, officials said earlier this year.
“Racially motivated hate crimes targeting the Asian American community are on the rise and have no place in our society today,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a Wednesday statement after Gomez’s plea.
“All people deserve to feel safe and secure living in their communities, regardless of race, color or national origin,” Clarke added.
Gomez has been in federal custody since August 2021. He now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Raymond Fivecoat, his attorney, declined to comment on the guilty pleas when reached by CNN Wednesday.
CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph contributed to this report.