Deputies say perceived Middle Eastern man shot at Walmart for dating white girl being investigated as hate crime

11:28 PM, Jan 3, 2013   |    comments
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 PDF Document: incident report

LUTZ, Florida - UPDATE: Surveillance video released in possible hate crime shooting

It is a shocking crime in a highly-populated place:  Walmart.

A man and his girlfriend were shot at 20 times with an Airsoft BB pistol as they were entering the Walmart Super Center at 1575 Land O'Lakes Boulevard in Lutz around 3 a.m.

But what's possibly more shocking -- and even more sinister --is the motive behind the crime.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is investigating this case heavily, because it's considered a hate crime. The young couple in their twenties was targeted because the man was of Middle Eastern descent and was dating a white woman, according to documents.

READ: The Pasco Sheriff's Incident Report (PDF)

The shooter saw the couple and was "relentless," said Pasco Sheriff's Office spokesperson Doug Tobin.

The shooter, also believed to be in his twenties, spotted the man and his girlfriend and began screaming at them, taunting them, and yelled out racial slurs, detectives say. He asked the young man if he was Middle Eastern and if he was a Muslim.

Then the suspect pulled out the pellet gun and opened fire, calling the man a "n----- with a white girl."

Twenty tiny rounds were fired from the BB pistol. Two hit the young man.

"This will not be tolerated in Pasco County," said Sheriff Chris Nocco on Wednesday morning. "We are putting all of our resources into solving this."

The couple, who is not being identified for safety reasons, was reportedly shaken by the traumatic event. The young man is currently recovering after being struck in the face.

The Muslim civil rights group CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, is calling for the feds to get involved.

"We urge the FBI to investigate this case because it seems to fit a disturbing pattern of recent incidents targeting Muslims in Florida and nationwide," said CAIR-Tampa executive director Hassan Shibly in a statement.

The hate crime was caught on camera at Walmart, but the video has not yet been released. The shooter is being described as a young man in his twenties with short blonde hair, no visible tattoos, last seen wearing a brown jacket, blue jeans, and green sandals. He was tracked by K-9s, but got away after he took off running.

Frequent Walmart shoppers were stunned by the news. "There are still idiots out there [in 2013] who do this sort of thing," said Cathy Breitenbach. "It's sad really."

Karen Garcia told 10 News, "I'm so surprised. This is a great town to live in and raise kids. I shop here every single Monday. I may bring my husband with me now."

Sheriff's spokesperson Doug Tobin added, "We are taking this very seriously and are hoping that someone who may have seen this will come forward and help us. This couple was just minding their own business."

If you know who did this or have heard anyone talking about this case, please call the Pasco Sheriff's Office at 1-800-706-2488.

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