Three suspects remain at large following an anti-gay hate crime in a Tennessee city after a business owner was savagely attacked and his store badly damaged.
Joe Williams, who owns the Healthy Thyme health food shop in Paris, Tennessee, was closing his store on Wednesday (20 November) when he was approached by a man asking for something to help his sick daughter.
When Williams reached down to get a product he recommended, he was assaulted by the man. Two other attackers, wearing ski masks, joined in the beating, hurling homophobic abuse at the victim – eventually knocking him unconscious.
After awakening, Williams witnessed two of the men pouring gasoline outside the entrance to the shop Fearing his store would be burned to the ground, he barricaded himself in an office and called the police.
When police arrived, they found Williams badly bruised wit an anti-gay slur written across his forehead.
The attackers had also got away with $1,500 from the store, and caused over $5,500 in damage.
Williams had claimed a man had arrived at the store earlier in the day and asked his sexuality, saying he wouldn't shop there if he was gay.
The homophobic attack has shocked the local community.
Robert Spicer, a regular customer at the store, said: 'I'm extremely surprised and dumbfounded why someone would do that. It makes no sense.
'Extremely nice guy. I don't know why anyone would want to hurt him.
'I think it's rediculous. I figured that we've come farther as Americans than to disgrace somebody about their beliefs, especially in 2013.'
Kim Cooley, a nearby business owner who runs a salon, said: 'It's really scary what happened over there, and I hope they just find out who did it.'
Supportive messages have been left on the store's Facebook page.
One reads: 'I am so sorry this happened to you! I am shocked this could happen in our small town, this day and age. I pray for you, and I pray they find the ones who did this to you!!'
Paris police have contacted the FBI to help with the investigation and to see if it classes as a hate crime.