A man who allegedly tried to kill an Asian American family of three because he believed they were spreading the coronavirus at a Sam's Club in Texas could face hate crime charges, the FBI told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday.
Jose L. Gomez, 19, stabbed the three people on March 14 at the Midland, Texas, Sam's Club before being taken down by a store employee, who saved the family's lives and was injured in the process, police told BuzzFeed News.
Gomez was then taken into custody by an off-duty Border Patrol agent. He was charged with three counts of attempted capital murder and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Bernie Ramirez, the Border Patrol agent, told CBS7 he initially approached Gomez and family with the intention of breaking up what he thought was a fight over scarce goods.
Ramirez said "credit is due" to Zach Owen, the store employee who stopped Gomez by putting him in a chokehold and suffered stab wounds to the hand in the process.
"He went into a knife fight bare-handed," Ramirez said. "He took control of the individual, and he disarmed him. If Zach had not been there, things could’ve gone really badly.”
Ramirez did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The father in the family declined to comment.
Gomez allegedly stabbed the three "because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus," the FBI stated in a document obtained by ABC News.
An FBI spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they were unable to comment on the document but confirmed that the case is being treated as a possible hate crime.
According to the FBI report, federal law enforcement officials are warning there could be a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
"The FBI assesses hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities," the document reportedly states. "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 Texas stabbing was just one of the many racist attacks Asian Americans have been facing amid the coronavirus pandemic's rise in the US.
On March 11, a woman in New York punched another woman for not wearing a face mask and "made anti-Asian statements and fled the location on foot." In February, a 16-year-old boy was sent to the hospital after being physically attacked by bullies who accused him of having the coronavirus. One couple in Minnesota got a note on their door that said "we’re watching you" and "take the Chinese virus back to China."
President Donald Trump has deliberately referred to COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus" on multiple occasions, which critics have seen as a way of scapegoating China and, in turn, inciting hatred and harassment of people of Asian descent. The World Health Organization has urged people not to attach locations or ethnicity to the virus to prevent social stigma.
When questioned, Trump defended his use of the term.
“It's not racist at all, no. Not at all,” Trump said. “It comes from China.”
The FBI spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the agency "will use all authority granted to us by federal law to investigate and hold those who commit violent acts accountable for their actions."
"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," the spokesperson said. "This includes violence toward Asian Americans or individuals from East Asian countries."