A West Texas man pleaded guilty Wednesday to hate-crime charges from his March 2020 knife attack on an Asian family at a warehouse store, officials said.
Jose Gomez III, 21, of Midland, Texas, pleaded guilty to three hate-crime counts from his attack on Bawi Cung and his son at a Midland Sam's Club, according to a Justice Department statement. He could be sentenced to life imprisonment and fined $250,000.
In court documents, Gomez admitted following the family into the store, taking a knife from a store display and slashing Cung, his 6-year-old son and a store employee who tried to intervene. Gomez said he blamed China for the COVID-19 pandemic and mistook the Burmese family for Chinese. He said he perceived the family to be a "threat" as they were "from the country who started spreading that disease around."
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Cung was slashed in the face, while his son was slashed millimeters from his right eye to the back of his head, splitting his right ear. Sam's Club employee Zach Owen was stabbed in the leg and slashed in the right palm.
While being held down on the ground, Gomez yelled at the Asian family, "Get out of America!"
In an interview last year, Cung told The Associated Press he could not walk through any store after the attack without constantly looking in all directions. His son, who now can't move one eyebrow, is afraid to sleep alone. He said he was not sure what would have happened had Owen not intervened.
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"Maybe I might kill him. Maybe he might kill all of my family. I don't know," Cung said. "God protected my family. God sent Zach to protect my family right there at the right time."