By Maria Caspani and Tyler Clifford
(Reuters) -A Dallas man suspected of shooting three women in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood last week harbored delusions about Asian people, police officials said on Tuesday, as the FBI launched a hate crime investigation into the attack.
Police identified the suspect as Jeremy Theron Smith, 36, and booked him on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Smith, who is Black, was being held at Dallas County jail.
Since a crash involving an Asian male two years ago, “Smith has had panic attacks and delusions when he is around anyone of Asian descent,” Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia told reporters.
Garcia said it was too early to tell if mental health may have been a factor in the shooting.
“I can tell you that I know our community sees it as a hate crime,” Garcia said. “I see it as a hate crime, and so do our men and women.”
The FBI along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas and the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice have opened a federal hate crime investigation into the incident. Garcia said state prosecutors could bring state hate crime charges against Smith as well.
The Texas incident echoed last year’s Atlanta-area shooting spree that targeted women of Asian descent, sending waves of fear and distrust within the Asian American community.
Attacks against people of Asian descent have escalated across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic began, fueled in part by rhetoric blaming China for the spread of the virus, advocates for Asian-American communities say.
The shooter, armed with a 22-caliber rifle, entered the Hair World Salon last Wednesday, opened fire and wounded the owner, a stylist and a customer, police said. All three were women of Korean descent. They were taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening wounds and were recovering.
Four other people who were at the salon at the time of the shooting were not injured, Garcia added.
He said investigators were able to piece together evidence linking Smith to two prior shootings targeting Asian businesses in the Dallas area. In all three shootings, a red minivan was spotted near the crime scene.
Surveillance video helped police find identifying features of the vehicle including a luggage rack and sticker on the lower back windshield, authorities said.
Smith has not yet been charged in the two other shootings, which occurred last week and in early April, and investigators are still working on those cases, he said.
The Korean American community in the Dallas area ranks among the largest in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, and Koreatown is the historic hub of the area’s Asian and Asian American residents.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Tyler Clifford in New York; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Susan Heavey, Chizu Nomiyama, Mark Porter, David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)