A man was filmed attacking a Colombian family with a baseball bat and shouting that they were "French terrorists" and "ISIS" in a Canadian mall parking lot in St. Thomas, Ontario, on Thursday.
One of the victims, Sergio Estepa, was left with a cracked rib and large bruise after stepping in front of his 13-year-old son to protect him, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
"He started saying we don't belong here, that we are speaking French," said Estepa. "But we were not speaking French; we were speaking Spanish. We don't know him."
Estepa and his common-law partner, Mari Zambrano, each moved from Colombia to Canada about 20 years ago, he told CBC.
"Out of the blue this guy starts yelling at us," Estepa said. "He called me a terrorist, that I'm ISIS, I don't know, maybe because of my beard. At some point he started to charge my son, and I went in front."
The man was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and three counts of assault with a weapon, and has been denied bail, CBC reported.
Estepa's son, Zambrano, and a young friend who was with the family were not physically harmed during the incident.
After this story was first published, Estepa told BuzzFeed News he wanted to wait for "clarity" before agreeing to interview because the incident was "a little bit complex" as he suspected the man had mental health problems.
"We all are victims here including him," he told BuzzFeed News. "We must be more kind with others."
Estepa did tell CBC only one bystander stepped in and offered to help: a woman who happened to be the vice principal at his son's elementary school.
"Only one person helped us. It happened at 4:30, in a mall with a movie theater and many stores. It's quite an active mall," Estepa said. "We were surprised that they pretended that nothing happened."
Police did not immediately respond to a request for more information on Saturday, but told CBC they were investigating the incident as "racially motivated."
On Twitter, St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge said he had spoken to the family and that they were "thankful 4 the community support they have received."
"I can assure the public that we will never tolerate this behaviour in St. Thomas!!" wrote Herridge.
Sgt. Brian Carnegie told CBC the attack was an "isolated and quite disturbing incident."
"Hopefully it remains isolated," Carnegie added.
"It's quite disturbing for any community, never mind the community of St. Thomas," said Carnegie. "Not only being a police officer in this community but a member of this community, I'm shocked and outraged that something like this would happen."
Julia Reinstein is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Julia Reinstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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