A Muslim-American family allegedly threatened by a man with a gun wants the incident to be treated as a hate crime.
According to the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR–St. Louis) and local media reports, Rabie Ayoub, Marwah Abdul Hussein, and their four young children were house hunting in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, Sunday when they were allegedly approached by 71-year-old Leonard DeBello. DeBello allegedly yelled obscenities and threats at the family, including “you Muslim? All of you should die.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a police summary said that the man then allegedly went inside his house and came back with a handgun, which he pointed at the family’s car, saying, “you, your wife, and your kids have to die. I’m going to take a picture of your plate and come hunt you down.”
“If anybody who comes up and says racist, ethnic, and religious slurs against anybody, and then threatens to kill them and their children, then takes out a gun to do it, if that’s not a hate crime, I don’t know what is,” Faizan Syed, executive director of CAIR-St. Louis, told NBC News.
Syed said that the family called police, and the man was arrested Sunday, held for less than 24 hours, and released without charges.
St. Louis County Police Department Sgt. Brian Schellman told NBC News that the investigation is still ongoing and that the police report is a closed record until the investigation becomes inactive.
St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch told NBC News that charges have not yet been filed because, following a preliminary review on Monday, more investigation was needed. McCulloch said police are interviewing additional witnesses and gathering more video evidence, and that he did not anticipate the investigation to be completed before next week.
Attorney Joel Eisenstein, who represents DeBello, described his client as a 71-year-old decorated and disabled Vietnam veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and who forgot to take his medication that day.
“Mr. DeBello is very regretful for his outburst,” Eisenstein told NBC News. “He was only leaving his house to go on a short trip. When he came back, their car was obstructing traffic and he had to pull around them. They wouldn’t move. He had to pull around them and became a little bit agitated over that and made some unkind remarks. Apparently they made some gestures also, and that set him off. So he never intended to do any harm to anyone, and he was a little bit stressed.”
Eisenstein denied that DeBello pointed a gun at the family. “I know for a fact that if he had a weapon, it was not displayed in an angry or threatening manner," Eisenstein said. "A man has a right to stand on his porch and hold a weapon. He doesn’t have the right when he is angry or intoxicated. He was angry and agitated, but he was not intoxicated in any way. He had a weapon in his hand. It was crossed on his chest. It was not pointed in any direction. It was not waved or used in a threatening manner in any way whatsoever. So if they are saying that he pointed it at them or if they say he used it in a rude or threatening manner, that is just not true. He was holding the weapon in his hand up against his chest.”
Eisenstein said DeBello had already drafted a two-page letter apologizing to the family but had not had an opportunity to deliver it.
“He is deeply saddened by this," Eisenstein said. "First of all by the publicity, secondly by the light that it shines on him making him out to be some sort of monster, which he is not. And he is not prejudiced. He is not anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti-anything.”
Syed said that CAIR-St. Louis helped the Ayoub family find an attorney, who has filed a restraining order against DeBello. CAIR-St. Louis will continue to monitor the case.
“We absolutely are pursuing that this is a hate crime because it is not just affecting the Ayoub family,” he said. “The nature of hate crimes and the reason they even exist in law is that if somebody hates somebody else and they say, ‘Oh Bob I hate you, I’m going to kill you,’ that affects Bob and his family. But when they say because you’re Black or you’re Muslim or you’re gay or whatever it is, then that affects a larger community.”
“In St. Louis, the larger community is being affected by this incident,” he continued. “Islamic centers all across the city are stepping up security, many people are taking their kids out of school worried about what might happen when they go out on the street, women are not going shopping and not going to public places because they’re worried that they might be the next victim of something like this.”