A driver arraigned Friday on eight counts of attempted murder deliberately plowed his car into a group of pedestrians Tuesday night in Sunnyvale, Calif., because he thought they were Muslim, police said.
Isaiah Joel Peoples of Sunnyvale, 34, was arrested at the scene of the crash, which left a 13-year-old girl in critical condition and targeted victims ranging in age from 9 to 52.
The Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety said in a statement that late Thursday they “obtained evidence regarding the motive behind Isaiah Peoples’ criminal act.”
“Based on our investigation, new evidence shows that Peoples intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith. This information has been shared with the District Attorney’s Office as part of the ongoing investigation,” the police said. “We ask that you respect the privacy of the victims as they recover. In the coming days, we will be reaching out to our community leaders to provide support to our victims and our community members.”
Police Chief Phan Ngo revealed the information to reporters Friday but would not go into further detail. Peoples’ attorney Chuck Smith said they are “disputing that this was an intentional act and this is a case of mental disorder.” Family members of the suspect said Peoples served in Afghanistan and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, including hospitalization in 2015; he served in the Army on active duty from 2004 to 2006 and in the reserves until 2008, and was working as a Department of Defense contractor. He doesn’t have a criminal record.
Peoples is due back in court May 16. Santa Clara County chief assistant district attorney Jay Boyarsky said there are no hate crimes charges at this point because the incident is still under investigation.
“There is very appalling, disturbing evidence that at least one or two of these victims were targeted based on the defendant’s view of what their race or religion may have been,” Borarsky said.
Police said Peoples was on his way to Bible study at the time of the crash and left no threatening messages on social media.
Ngo said earlier this week that there was no apparent connection between Peoples and the victims. “Following the collision, a witness reported that Peoples said something similar to ‘Thank you, God,’” the chief said.
Ngo said the case was being investigated in conjunction with the FBI. The Bureau said it was “assessing the situation to determine federal involvement” and would proceed according to their findings.