A San Francisco Bay Area driver charged with eight counts of attempted murder is suspected of targeting the victims because he thought they were Muslim, local authorities said Friday.
Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo said at a news conference that there’s evidence 34-year-old Isaiah Joel Peoples intentionally drove his car into the crowd on Tuesday because he believed some of them were Muslim. He declined to elaborate further.
The car rammed into eight pedestrians in a Sunnyvale intersection. The injured included a South Asian father and his 13-year-old daughter, who was the most severely injured. Her younger brother was not hit, according to The Mercury News.
Ngo said Friday that the girl “remains in critical condition.”
Jay Boyarsky, the chief assistant district attorney for Santa Clara County, called the evidence “very appalling and disturbing” but said his office has not yet decided to move forward with hate crime charges against Peoples, an Army veteran who lives in Sunnyvale.
“I know that there are questions about what the motivation of this crime was, and some of you are wondering about whether this is a hate crime,” Boyarsky said at Friday’s news conference. “There is no hate crime allegation charged at this point in time for one reason only: The matter is still being investigated.”
The eight counts Peoples is facing, four of which have an enhancement for causing great bodily injury, carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
At Peoples’ first court appearance Friday, a judge ordered that he be held without bail.
Boyarsky emphasized that all departments involved in the investigation are taking the evidence of motive very seriously.
“When a crime is committed because of someone’s nationality or their race or their religion, it’s not just that individual victim that is hurt, it’s our entire community,” he said. “And our entire community stands united against hatred and bigotry.”
The South Asian family asked that their last name not be released. The other victims were identified as Marina Reimler, 32; Soeren Reimler, 33; Ping Lu, 51; Rajesh Narayan, 45; Eric Nava, 24; and Miguel, 15, who was identified by his first name only. It was not clear Friday which victim is the father of the 13-year-old girl and her 9-year-old brother, according to The Mercury News.
Islamophobia is on the rise both in the U.S. and internationally while anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies have been a mainstay of President Donald Trump’s presidency.
In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that the number of assaults against Muslims in the U.S. rose significantly from 2015 to 2016, greatly surpassing the modern peak reached in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.