MILLARD COUNTY, Utah -- Three times in the last three months, a 21-year-old Delta man says he has been the victim of anti-gay hate crimes.
On Saturday, just three days following his most recent attack, Rick Jones was back to work at the Grand Central Pizzeria and Grill, a business he owns with his family.
“It has been a rough thing for me and my family and it has been rough for the community, but we have all still banded together and have been able to work through it,” Jones said.
According to Jones, he was first attacked on April 25 when he was knocked unconscious outside his pizza shop. He said the assailants held him down and forced him to drink bleach. The next thing he remembered is waking up in the hospital with anti-gay messages carved into his arms.
“I could not believe that that happened in my town, to one of my very good friends, it was really upsetting," friend Wade Manis said. "We went down to the hospital to sit with him, it was probably the most horrific thing I’ve seen in this town in a long time."
Earlier this month, the Jones family’s Delta home was vandalized with anti-gay messages. Then, just this past week, a Molotov cocktail (which is an incendiary device) was thrown through Rick’s bedroom window.
“I thought the story was so over the top that it couldn’t possibly been true,” said Michael Aaron, who helped organize a LGBT community fundraiser and rally on Saturday. “I mean, this kid just can’t catch a break and this family can’t, the graffiti, it just has to be wearing them down.”
Dozens of people, inside and outside of the LGBT community, drove from Salt Lake City to Delta Saturday. They bought pizza from Rick’s restaurant, and then returned to Salt Lake City and sold the slices, giving all the profits back to the family.
“When one experiences discrimination of any kind it’s important for all of us to bond together and support each other,” said Debbie, who participated in the Rally.
The Jones family said they are grateful for the outpouring of support, and that this issue far exceeds just them.
“There are people that are suffering a whole lot worse than we are every single moment of every single day,” said Terri Jones, Rick’s mother.
Rick said he doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him. He said if you want to feel sorry for anyone, it should be his attackers.
“If we lash out in anger all that is going to do is cause more problems, and that’s not how to respond and that’s not how our community should respond,” Rick Jones said. “We need to respond with love and compassion and mercy.”
So far no arrests have been made in this case. The Millard County Sheriff’s Office is in the process of investigating several leads, and the sheriff said the investigation is currently their top priority.