The attack came quickly and without warning, a barrage of punches that sent Michael Hall to the pavement, fracturing the right side of his jaw and leaving his face swollen and lined with surgical stitches.
Michael Roike said he swung wildly to fend off the onslaught, trying to protect his 29-year-old longtime partner as they walked two blocks from their apartment in the Eckington neighborhood of Northeast D.C.
The attackers “came out of nowhere and hit us,” said Hall in an interview. “It was just a blur.”
District authorities say the attack “may have been motivated by hate bias,” noting that ”three suspects appeared from an unknown direction and began to yell homophobic slurs” at the victims.
Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said a patrol officer and a detective wrote in reports that “those statements were overheard,” but she would not say from whom. She called the attack “very disturbing, no matter where it happens in the city.”
Roike, 28, said that he and Hall had had been drinking and were disoriented. Neither could recall hearing any words. The attackers appeared to be uninterested in their wallets or other possessions, said Roike, noting that that while Hall’s cell phone is missing, he is not sure the attackers took it.
“We may or may not have been holding hands,” Roike said Tuesday, hours after Hall was released from Howard University Hospital and the couple answered another round of questions from police. “We don’t know what provoked them.”
Police have not officially classified the attack as a hate crime, but said they are investigating it as such. Police quickly referred the case to the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.
There has been a growing number of bias-related crimes in the District. Police statistics show the largest jump is in attacks linked to victims’ sexual orientation, with 22 reported so far this year, compared with 15 at this time in 2011.
There were 42 sexually oriented bias crimes in all of 2011 and police say the number has risen steadily since 2007, when 19 were reported. Lanier said numbers in many hate-crime categories are fluctuating, and she attributed the increase to outreach into the gay community, which she said has led to more reporting.
Sunday’s attack on 3rd Street NE came three weeks after members of a gay anti-violence group testified before the D.C. City Council to plead for help in keeping safe.
“A lot of people are concerned about why this is happening in the city,” said Hassan Naveed, vice chairman of a group called Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence.
Hall works at the Yoga District cooperative, a nonprofit with five locations around the District that promotes affordable sessions. He also teaches at several other yoga studios and is well-known in the community.
Friends launched a Facebook site to help raise money. It has attracted hundreds of responses, and more than a dozen yoga studios are donating money from sessions to help Hall, who has no insurance, pay his hospital bills. A benefit is scheduled for Aug. 5 in Meridian Hall Park.
One of Hall’s friends, Jasmine Chehrazi, visited him at the hospital Tuesday and said he was meditating and doing yoga exercises designed to speed healing.
“There’s a lot in yoga that can help people through traumatic situations,” Chehrazi said. “He’s living proof of that. “
Hall and Roike, a bartender at Old Ebbitt Grill, moved in June to Eckington, where Roike said neighbors welcomed them with open arms. He said those same neighbors have inundated them with get-well cards.
Saturday night, the couple took the Uber car service home after a night of eating and drinking, but Roike said the driver got confused by the maze of one-way streets and they agreed to walk from about two blocks from their apartment.
Roike said they were attacked as the driver pulled away. Roike said Hall stood up after the first punch sent him to the ground and was knocked down a second time. Roike screamed and a woman ran from a nearby house.
“We have no idea who she was,” Roike said. “If not for her, we have no idea how much longer it would’ve gone on and how much worse it would have got. She was our guardian angel.”