A woman and her family are left feeling shaken, after a shopping mall parking lot assault in St Thomas, Ont., on Thursday that’s being investigated as a racially motivated attack.
“When he went to his car, I [thought] he was going to have a gun,” said Mariuxis Zambrano. She’d gone to Elgin Mall with her 13-year-old son, her husband Sergio Estepa, and a friend to get food when they were approached by a man hurling insults.
The confrontation, caught partly on camera, shows a man getting out of a white BMW brandishing a baseball bat, repeatedly yelling “terrorists” and “ISIS”, while a person off-camera can be heard telling him to “stay away.”
St. Thomas police say they were called to the scene around 4:30 p.m. after reports of a man attacking another man with a baseball bat.
“He was about to hit our son, and my husband just jumped in… he swung that bat and hit my husband three times,” said Zambrano.
The suspect fled in his car just before police arrived. Mark Phillips, a 36-year-old man, has since been charged with aggravated assault and three counts of assault with a weapon.
When asked if police were investigating the assault as a hate crime, St. Thomas police Sgt. Brian Carnegie said they believe the suspect was racially motivated.
“That’s why we’ve called in the criminal investigation branch, if it borders the hate crime line then they are the ones to deal with those kinds of situations.”
Carnegie said they were able to locate the suspect Thursday evening in south London with help from London police.
“Just an absolute coincidence that the London police got a call involving this male, and once they ran the vehicle they saw that we ran the vehicle too, and they contacted us to see what we wanted with him,” said Carnegie.
Zambrano’s 52-year-old husband was taken to Elgin General Hospital and was treated for severe bruising and a cracked rib.
When the attack happened, Zambrano said they’d just arrived at the mall. They were speaking in Spanish, and laughing about a joke.
“As Colombian people, we are always laughing very loud,” she explained. Seventeen years ago, she and her family — including a brother who also posted a video of the attack that has been circulated widely online — moved to Canada from Colombia.
“In Colombia, I never feel secure. Always I was panicked, I was not able to go outside after 6 o’clock,” she said, her voice trembling.
In Canada, she feels safer. But the assault has left her feeling rattled, and she’s scared to think what may have happened if her son had gone to the mall alone.
The suspect was held in custody pending a bail hearing, and the criminal investigations branch has been called in.
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