It was sometime past 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. The five friends were having a mini tailgate, finishing their burgers and fries while standing outside their two cars in a Saint Augustine, Fla., McDonald’s lot, when Smith started eyeing them from his truck, the men would soon tell police.
The man was on the phone, but once he hung up he had a question for the five men.
“Are you American boys?” he asked, according to a St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office arrest report.
They were not American boys. They were international students from Egypt, all between the ages of 19 and 23, Omar Abdelmoaty told The Washington Post. But they didn’t tell that to Smith.
“The truth is, we didn’t even look at him,” 23-year-old Abdelmoaty said. “We didn’t respond. We didn’t say anything. And then he said some stuff to us. … Do you really want to know?”
According to the arrest report, Smith flashed his pocket knife, flicking it open and closed, and then he shouted, “Get the … out of my country!” using the f-word, and “You don’t deserve American food!”
“At this point,” Abdelmoaty told The Post, “we thought we were going to die.”
“We said, ‘Okay, sir, we are leaving,’ ” 20-year-old Mohamed Galal recounted in a sworn affidavit.
They were apparently not leaving fast enough. According to the police report, Smith grabbed a stun gun from his truck to “make this quicker,” as he put it, according to the affidavit.
As the men scrambled to get back into their cars, Smith allegedly charged toward them with the stun gun drawn, pulling the trigger just to “show us that his electric shocker is working,” Abdelmoaty told police.
One of them, 19-year-old Gasser Elkady, swung open the door to the back seat of the red Nissan while Smith “put the [stun gun] behind my back.” Smith did not relent once Elkady was inside. Police say he then stuck his hand through the window and tried, unsuccessfully, to use the stun gun on Elkady again as Elkady retreated farther back into the car.
Then Smith moved on to the driver’s side, allegedly sticking his hand through the open driver’s side window and sticking his stun gun in Galal’s face.
Galal was so spooked that he hit the gas with the car in reverse and struck a pole. Then he and the others peeled out of the lot and called 911.
“Upon my arrival,” Deputy Kristin Pamies wrote in her report, “I made contact with John Smith. John had the smell of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his person and he was slurring his words. John made spontaneous statements advising, ‘I am an American and the guys by the vehicles were making ruckus so I told them to get out of here and one of them pulled a gun and they left in a red vehicle.’”
The red Nissan returned to the scene. No gun was recovered, and in his formal recorded statement to police Smith did not mention a gun again, Pamies noted. He did, however, tell police he went up to the window and initiated a shock with his “zapper.” His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Once in the back of the cop car, an officer reported that Smith made the “spontaneous utterance” that “they killed my son.” His son, he said, was a Marine who died in combat in Afghanistan.
Smith was arrested and booked Wednesday on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, burglary with assault, and armed trespassing. He is out on an $8,500 bond.
Police selected the “hate crime” enhancement on the report, noting that the “statements made by the defendant to the victims showed that he only committed the acts due to the victim’s religion,” but it is not clear if prosecutors will charge him with a hate crime in court.
Abdelmoaty said he and his friends are Muslims.
In the interview early Thursday morning, Abdelmoaty told The Washington Post that he and his friends have not been sleeping since the attack, that they have been trying to get back to studying but that this incident has consumed them, making it difficult to even go out in public to go on with their daily lives. “We’re in a state of fear,” he said.
They have been in the United States for seven to 10 months, and Abdelmoaty said they have never experienced anything like this before. Asked why they believe they were targeted, Abdelmoaty says it seems obvious to him, but that it’s hard to say it out loud, because that makes it real.
“This is the land of the free, so we didn’t think one day that we would encounter something like this,” he said. “We didn’t do anything to anybody. We’re just students. The basic idea that he charged us and attacked us for this, for our religion, for our home country and background, it’s kind of scary. In the first place, we’re just human beings — names and descriptions came afterward.”
“We don’t hate him for what he did,” he said. “We’re just sad.”
In the police report, deputies noted that evidence at the scene corroborated the five men’s version of events. The McDonald’s manager told police she saw Smith get out of his truck with a stun gun and threaten the men through the car windows. The police found damage to the Nissan’s back bumper, its red paint still on the pole it backed into. They found the knife in Smith’s pocket.
They found the burgers and fries and milkshakes scattered in the parking lot.