The FBI opened a federal hate crime investigation against an Army veteran who careened his car into a crowd of people in Sunnyvale, California, because he reportedly thought some of them were Muslim, authorities said Saturday.
Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, is being held without bail at the Santa Clara County Main Jail, according to jail records.
"The FBI San Francisco Field Office has opened a federal hate crime investigation into the incident that occurred in Sunnyvale on April 23, 2019. As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to comment further at this time," the agency said in a statement Saturday.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations San Francisco Bay Area commended the FBI's decision to open the hate crime probe.
"If the FBI chooses to step in, that is of course a welcome sign that law enforcement from all agencies understand the severity of this incredibly violent attack," said Zahra Billoo, a CAIR spokeswoman.
Billoo said her office was contacted by the Santa Clara County district attorney's office Friday to offer support. County prosecutors have not charged Peoples with a hate crime. The Santa Clara County district attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.
On Friday, Peoples was charged with eight counts of attempted murder after steering his black 2010 Toyota Corolla into the pedestrians Tuesday evening. Four of the attempted murder charges have enhancements for causing great bodily injury.
"Based on our investigation, new evidence shows that the defendant intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith," Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo said outside the courthouse.
The crash occurred after Peoples picked up food and was heading to Bible study, police said. Witnesses said Peoples got out of his car and said, "Thank you, Jesus," before police arrested him.
Seven pedestrians and cyclists were struck. A father managed to push his 9-year-old son out of the way so that he was not hit by the car. Officials said Peoples meant to hit him, which accounts for the eighth attempted-murder count. The boy and a 45-year-old man were treated and released from the hospital with minor injuries.
A 13-year-old girl remains in critical condition in a coma with swelling to her brain and has a broken pelvis, police officials wrote in court papers. The left side of her skull was removed to relieve pressure.
The other victims include a 32-year-old woman, 33-year-old man and 52-year-old man who were in stable condition with major injuries; and a 15-year-old boy and 24-year-old man who were treated by paramedics at the scene, police said.
A witness said Peoples reached speeds up to 60 mph before hitting the victims. Police found a disassembled, inoperative shotgun in the Toyota, they said.
Peoples served in the U.S. Army from 2004 to 2006 and worked as a civil affairs specialist who reached the rank of sergeant. He was deployed to Iraq from June 2005 to May 2006, officials said. He was honorably discharged before joining the Army Reserve in 2008.
His brother, Joshua Peoples, told The Chronicle that Peoples struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from the Middle East and was on medication. He spent nearly a year in a mental institution in 2015.
This article is written by Sarah Ravani from San Francisco Chronicle and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.