Salt Lake police asked for the public's help Thursday in finding a man investigators say attacked another man, breaking his eye socket, apparently because the victim was gay.
The incident, which is being labeled by police as a potential hate crime, happened Aug. 9, but details weren't released by police until Thursday.
Carlos Lopez, 18, was partying with friends on Churchill Drive, a popular meeting spot for teenagers that overlooks the valley. Lopez said a group of people approached his friends and began talking with them.
Everyone in the group was friendly at first, and the victim even had his picture taken with the others, said Salt Lake police spokeswoman Lara Jones. After the picture, the assailant, who is approximately 20, asked the victim if he was gay. When he stated he was, the man and several others hit the victim several times, breaking his orbital bone, Jones said.
"I was scared," Lopez recalled Thursday. He said he thought, "I don't want to die."
The victim has since had to undergo reconstructive surgery.
The only description of the assailants police had Thursday was they were all Polynesian.
The attack has several similarities to an attack in South Salt Lake on July 4. In that incident, David "DJ" Bell and his partner, Dan Fair, suffered a severe beating at the hands of a Polynesian
family who believed Bell had kidnapped two of their young children. Bell was charged with kidnapping and is currently awaiting trial. Fair, who had his eye socket broken and has undergone several surgeries, was not arrested.
Fair called the attack a hate crime. The family of the children said they were trying to protect their children and the attack had nothing to do with sexual orientation. The Salt Lake District Attorney's Office has declined to file charges against the family.
Despite the apparent similarities, Jones said the incidents were quite different in context.
"At the heart (of the Salt Lake beating) is the question, 'Was sexual preference the motivation for the violence?"'
Jones said she could not comment on cases in another jurisdiction.
Even after the attack, Lopez said he doesn't fear violence because of his sexual orientation, but he said, "I don't like telling people I'm gay." As he stood in front of reporters and news cameras Thursday, he said he felt "uncomfortable."
"This is what I have to do for them to get caught," he said. "I just want justice. After what they did to me, they could kill somebody else."