A 13-year-old Indian American resident of Sunnyvale, Calif., has been in a coma since April 23, when she and members of her family were struck down by a motorist as they were crossing the street, in what appears to be a hate crime.
On the evening of April 23, Iraq war veteran Isaiah Peoples drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians at a crosswalk in Sunnyvale. Eight people were injured, including Dhriti Narayan, the 7th grader at Sunnyvale Middle School who remains in critical condition; her father Rajesh Narayan; and her 9-year-old brother Prakhar. The family was walking home from the library.
The other injured victims are: Marina Reimler, 32; Soeren Reimler, 33; Ping Lu, 51; Eric Nava, 24; and Miguel Balbuena Nava, 15. All were treated for various degrees of injuries but have since been released from the hospital.
Peoples, 35, suffered no injuries. He has been charged with eight counts of attempted murder, and is being held at Santa Clara County, Calif., jail, with no allowed bail.
The Sunnyvale Police Department, along with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office and the FBI are investigating the incident as a hate crime. Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo told reporters that, according to witness statements, Peoples appeared to accelerate as he moved into the crosswalk, and said: “Thank you, God.”
The Sunnyvale police have reported that Peoples deliberately crashed into the victims, believing incorrectly that they were Muslims. Ngo said the department has no information linking Peoples to known terrorist organizations.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that a witness heard Peoples saying: “Thank you, Jesus” as he mowed his victims down. The suspect was believed to be bringing food to his Bible study group.
Santa Clara County District Attorney spokesman Sean Webby confirmed to India-West that the attack is being investigated as a hate crime. He forwarded a statement from Chief Assistant DA Jay Boyarsky, who said: “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.”
“Let me speak for DA Jeff Rosen, myself, my entire office and all of law enforcement in Santa Clara County: we will have no tolerance for anyone who preys on people for their race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. This community has been hurt — but we are strong and steadfast and we will stand together against violence, ignorance, and hate,” said Boyarsky.
Chuck Smith, Peoples’ attorney, told India-West that he is having his client evaluated by psychiatrists for mental disorders. Peoples is an Iraq war veteran who has a history of mental illness, including Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, for which he is taking medication, said Smith.
While Peoples was serving in Iraq, he worked with the U.S. Army to help residents of the country rebuild their homes in the war-ravaged nation, said Smith. Peoples also has cousins who are Muslims, he said, adding: “There is no indication of animus towards Muslims.”
“I don’t believe he intentionally drove into people to try to kill them,” Smith stated to India-West. He noted that Peoples has no memory of what happened during the attack. Local publications have said that he showed no remorse as he was questioned by police, but Smith said his client has not had an opportunity to show public remorse.
Peoples was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, served 11 months in Iraq, and had received several awards including a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, according to local news reports.
A GoFundMe page — https://bit.ly/2XXkYCc — has been set up for Dhriti Narayan to help with hospital expenses. Narayan suffered brain bleed and swelling; portions of the left side of her skull have been removed to relieve pressure.
On the GoFundMe page, which has raised almost $300,000 from 6,000 donors over the past two days, Dhriti is characterized as “a sweet little girl who is kind to everyone and always steals our hearts with her generosity.”
“In this crime the driver intentionally targeted them based on their ethnicity / perceived religion. Our hearts and prayer go to Dhriti for her speedy recovery but a huge medical bill and potential rehab costs are expected for her recovery,” wrote the administrators in Dhriti’s GoFundMe appeal.
In a post for the online news site Medium, long-time Indian American community activist Deepa Iyer wrote: “Does even a week go by without an incident of hate violence in this country? These days, we are barely finding out the names of the victims of one hate massacre when we hear of another attack.”
Iyer, who has a daughter about the same age as Dhriti, wrote that she was heartbroken by the crime. “She is part of an Indian immigrant family like mine. She was just taking a walk — returning from the library — with her loved ones.”