Isaiah Joel Peoples, a 34-year-old army veteran, deliberately drove his car into a crowd of people in Sunnyvale, California, because he thought some of them were Muslim, police said Friday.
“Based on our investigation, new evidence shows that the defendant intentionally targeted victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith,” Sunnyvale police chief Phan Ngo said outside court. “We understand that you will have many questions based on this announcement. However, we will not be releasing further information for now.”
Peoples is accused of hitting eight pedestrians with his car Tuesday evening. According to police, Peoples had picked up food and was driving to a Bible study group when he intentionally drove into a crosswalk. A witness told the San Francisco Chronicle that he reached speeds of 60 miles per hour before striking the victims. “After crashing, he dragged himself out of the sedan and repeatedly moaned, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ witnesses said. Police found a disassembled, inoperative shotgun in the Toyota.”
A 13-year-old girl remains in critical condition in a coma and had to have part of her skull removed to relieve pressure, the Chronicle reported, citing court documents. She also has a broken pelvis. The seven other victims have injuries ranging from broken bones to scrapes.
Peoples, a former U.S. Army sharpshooter who served in the Iraq War, appeared in court Friday. He has been charged with eight counts of attempted murder and ordered to be held without bail.
While Peoples has not been charged with a hate crime, officials said they are prepared to do so if the investigation finds sufficient evidence.
“Even before our decision, I will say this: if this is a hate crime, there are far more than eight victims. Hate crimes are a brazen attack on our entire community… We stand together on that street corner. We stand together in that young girl’s hospital room,” Jay Boyarski, Santa Clara County chief assistant district attorney, said in a statement. “This community has been hurt — but we are strong and steadfast and we will stand together against violence, ignorance, and hate.”
Peoples’ mother told the Sacramento Bee that her son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq. Chuck Smith, Peoples’ attorney, denied that his client intentionally targeted the victims, saying, “This act was clearly the product of some mental disorder or mental defect.” Police said Peoples showed no sign of remorse.
Reported hate crimes have been on the rise for three consecutive years in the United States, according to FBI data released in 2018. More than half of reported hate crimes targeted a person’s race or ethnicity, while about one in five targeted their religion. After a gunman opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month, killing 50 people, Muslim leaders blamed the normalization of Islamaphobia around the world.