Pasco County deputies are investigating an attack outside a Walmart as a hate crime. It happened around 3 a.m. Wednesday at the Walmart at 1575 Land O’Lakes Blvd in Lutz.
Deputies say a man and a woman in their 20s were heading out to their car in the parking lot. Another man, also in his 20s, approached them and asked them a series of questions.
“The first question to the male was ‘are you of Middle Eastern descent?'” explained Doug Tobin, spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Tobin said the male victim responded, “No, I’m not.”
Then the man asked another question: “Are you Muslim?” The victim again responded, “No, I’m not a Muslim.”
Deputies say the suspect then yelled a racial slur, alluding to the fact the victim was “with a white woman.” Then the man pulled out a BB or air soft gun.
“The suspect shot about 20 rounds of this air soft/Pellet gun, toward our victims. Fortunately, they weren’t seriously hurt. But it’s a serious crime,” Tobin said.
The man was hit twice in the face. He was treated on the scene and released, and the woman he was with was not hurt.
Surveillance cameras caught the attack. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is working with Walmart to get that video.
A shopper and a store employee witnessed the attack and told deputies the man ran off towards Dale Mabry Highway. A K-9 picked up his scent but lost it at the road. So it’s unclear if a car was waiting nearby for the man.
The sheriff’s office is asking for the public’s help. “If someone may have said something, like if this person bragged about what he’d done to someone else, we ask for them to step forward and call our Pasco County Sheriff’s Office,” Tobin said.
Their tip line is 800-706-2488.
The suspect is described as between 18 and 30 years old, with blond, short hair, about six feet tall, weighing around 180 pounds, wearing blue jeans, a brown jacket and green sandals.
The Council on American Islamic Relations released a statement this afternoon urging local Muslims to be cautious.
See also “CAIR asks FBI to probe shooting of ‘Middle Eastern’ man in Fla.”, CAIR press release, 2 January 2013
Update: See “CAIR offering $1,000 reward in Walmart shooting”,Patch.com, 3 January 2012
Update 2: See “Arrest made in apparent Pasco hate crime”, Bay News 9, 4 January 2013
And “Victim in Pasco hate crime had gun, decided not to use it”,Tampa Bay Times, 5 January 2013
Update 3: See “Tampa student shot twice in face at Walmart during possible hate crime speaks out”, WUSA, 6 January 2013