February 3, 2006

Bloody attack on Mass. gay bar stuns region

By David Ortiz

NEW BEDFORD, Massachusetts (Reuters) - An attack by a
neo-Nazi teenager, accused of shooting two people and
bludgeoning a third with a hatchet in a Massachusetts gay bar
before fleeing, has stunned gays in the region and sparked
fears that the assailant could strike again.

A manhunt was under way on Friday for an 18-year-old whom
police say walked into Puzzles Lounge in the city of New
Bedford late on Wednesday, ordered two drinks and then went on
a rampage after asking a bartender "is this a gay bar?"

Jacob Robida faces about a dozen charges, including three
counts of attempted murder and civil rights violations for the
attack that left three men seriously wounded, police said.

"It's a vicious and ugly reminder of anti-gay prejudice,"
David Smith, head of policy and strategy at the Human Rights
Campaign, a national gay rights group, said. "What is unique
about hate crimes is that they terrorize the whole community."

When told he was in a gay bar, Robida walked into a back
area where several men played pool, reached into his coat and
pulled out a hatchet, police said.

He lunged at several men, striking two in the face with the
hatchet before several of the bar's 18 patrons attempted to
restrain him. He then drew a gun and began firing in the
pink-walled venue, according to police and witnesses.

About 150 people, including New Bedford's mayor and several
of the city's politicians, held a candlelight vigil late on
Thursday on the street outside of the bar about 58 miles (93
km) south of Boston, the state's capital.

"We think he could strike again. We don't know what he will
do, especially if he gets desperate," Paul Walsh, Bristol Dist.
Attorney, told Reuters. "He's armed and extremely dangerous. We
also cannot rule out that he could be suicidal."

Police across the Northeast U.S. coast are on alert for
Robida, who was last seen by his mother when he returned home
early on Thursday bleeding from a head wound and then leaving
his house in a green Pontiac car, Walsh said.


A search of Robida's bedroom turned up neo-Nazi literature
and posters slurring gays, Jews and African-Americans, Walsh
said. He also appears on a Web site posing with Nazi flags.

"I've had friends jumped before, but it wasn't with weapons
and nothing on this scale," said Jeffrey Robbins, 33, a gay
resident of New Bedford. He said his friends were concerned for
their safety and feared a copy-cat attack.

"We're all just going to be more observant, walking each
other to our cars with keys in our hands if we have to defend
ourselves," he said.

Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, called on
Washington to pass a bill that would extend the federal law on
hate crimes to cover offenses targeting people because of
sexual orientation.

Massachusetts has hate crime laws that cover sexual
orientation but 29 states do not.

"This tragic incident underlines the problem of anti-gay
violence in this country," Frank, who is gay and whose district
includes New Bedford, said in a statement. "I will continue to
press for amendments to existing federal hate crimes laws to
cover this sort of horrible crime."

The crime stunned residents in the blue-collar city.

"It's crazy that it happened in this day and age," said
Craig Paiva, a 29-year-old New Bedford resident who lives two
blocks from Robida's home. "You wonder how someone could hate a
group of people so badly at the age of 18."

(Additional reporting by Jason Szep in Boston)