SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah authorities are investigating an attack on a black missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a possible hate crime.
Two men were arrested Thursday on suspicion of assault, and charging documents show hate crime is under consideration. The NAACP expressed outrage about what allegedly happened and church officials said they are concerned about the incident.
The victim and his missionary companion were preparing to go to a house of people they were going to teach Jan. 28 in the central Utah city of Payson when they encountered six people wearing dark hoodies, charging documents show.
The assailants shouted a racial slur at the victim, who is Panamian, and told him to get out of their “hood,” he told police. They threw his cellphone on the ground, threatened his mother and called him a “church boy” before punching him in the head and face and kicking him, the document shows.
The victim fought back and eventually freed himself. His prescription glasses were broken during the incident.
Police say the victim’s white missionary companion was not targeted during the attack. Like all missionaries for the faith, widely known as the Mormon church, the men wore white shirts and ties with clearly visible name tags identifying them as church missionaries.
The suspects — Sebastian West, 19, and Malachi Bay West, 20 — were in custody but had not yet been charged as of Friday afternoon. Neither has an attorney listed.
Payson is a city of 20,000 people about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.
The NAACP wants all six people to be charged with hate crimes, said Jeanetta Williams, president of the organization’s Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah.
“The NAACP is outraged over the hate crime that occurred in Payson between six individuals that targeted a Black Panamanian missionary because of the color of his skin,” Williams said in a statement. “We are alarmed about the physical assault and destruction of personal property.”
It’s unknown why the other four people have not been arrested. A phone message left with Payson police was not immediately returned.
The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said they appreciate the efforts of law enforcement and are providing support to the victim.
“We are concerned about what happened to two of our missionaries serving in Payson, Utah, in January and are grateful they escaped serious harm,” said church spokesman Daniel Woodruff.