Man Critically Wounds 3 at Gay Bar in Mass.

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 3, 2006

BOSTON, Feb. 2 -- An 18-year-old man with a handgun and a hatchet critically injured three customers inside a lounge with gay clientele in New Bedford, Mass., late Wednesday, just after asking the bartender if he was in a gay bar, police said.

Officials identified Jacob D. Robida of New Bedford as the suspect. He ran out of Puzzles Lounge after the attack, they said, and was still being sought Thursday evening. A police spokesman declined to say how investigators had connected Robida to the attack, but said they think he "has extreme violent tendencies."

"He still has the gun," said the spokesman, Capt. Richard M. Spirlet of the New Bedford Police Department.

Spirlet said the three victims, all men, were critically injured. At least two were reportedly at hospitals in Boston, about 55 miles north of New Bedford, a coastal city of 94,000. One victim suffered a deep gash to his head, one was shot in the torso, and one was shot and slashed in the cheek, Spirlet said.

The attack began around midnight. A bartender, who identified himself only as Phillip, told local television stations that the attacker first sat down and ordered a drink.

"He paid for his drink. He got another one five minutes later, and five minutes after that started attacking everybody," the bartender said.

Police said that, just before the attack, the man asked a bartender whether the establishment was a gay bar. He was told it was. Soon after, he pulled the hatchet from his coat and swung it at the customer next to him, police said.

A melee followed, as patrons struggled with the attacker. During the fight, police said, the man pulled out a gun and began shooting.

The bartender said one of the victims had just come out of the restroom when he was shot in the chest.

A spokesman for local prosecutors said Thursday that Robida had been charged with three counts of assault with intent to murder, as well as civil rights violations. Though authorities said the attack was classified as a hate crime, they did not release any specifics about a motive.

On Thursday afternoon, a group of activists who support Massachusetts's policy legalizing same-sex marriage said they were planning a vigil at the bar in honor of the victims.

Bev Baccelli, one of the organizers, said she thinks the attacker may have been encouraged by the rhetoric used by opponents of same-sex marriage here.

"They created an atmosphere of intolerance," she said, "and that atmosphere of intolerance just exploded in New Bedford."

But Rep. Barney Frank (D), who represents the area and is gay, said he thinks the city's residents are very open to gays, and blamed the rampage on the attacker alone.

"This is just a deranged individual," Frank said in a phone interview.

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