Reported anti-gay hate crime in Utah just took a disturbing turn

Rick Jones, 21, and his family run a pizzeria in their small town of Delta, Utah. It’s a family-style restaurant that serves just about everything to the 3,457 residents of this tiny desert outpost. Because Delta is a Western town, its primary cultural events are rodeo clubs and an annual geese migration festival.

But the peace and quiet of life here in the Great Basin was disrupted on Wednesday evening when someone allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail through Jones’s window, he said. After putting out the fire, Jones discovered that “You’ll die burn fag” had been spray-painted on the side of his house.

Photo via Millard County Chronicle Progress

The Millard County Sheriff’s Office sent out a press release on Thursday asking for help finding suspects.

These crimes are the latest in a string of crimes perpetrated against the owners of this local business.  The first incident occurred in April.  Local resident Rick Jones was found unconscious at the family owned business.  He was transported by ambulance to the hospital where he was treated for head/facial bruising and a concussion. Upon investigation it was learned that $1000 had been stolen from the business safe and there was evidence this was possibly a hate crime. The Sheriffs Office is currently investigating several different leads in these cases.  There is a reward available to anyone providing information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators of these crimes. Also we would like to encourage all citizens, to report any suspicious persons or circumstance to the Sheriff’s Office dispatch immediately.

While the press release doesn’t mention the specific details, Jones told the local LGBT paper Gay Salt Lake that the first incident of harassment happened on a Saturday in late April. That night, the young man was closing the pizza joint and taking out the trash when he claims someone snuck up behind him, slamming his head against the wall.

“I remember waking up and I was lying on the floor,” Jones told Gay Salt Lake. “Someone was on my chest and legs and they were trying to force me to drink bleach.”

Jones says he went unconscious and woke up to an emergency medical team racing him to the local hospital. There, he was treated for internal injuries, lacerations to the head and face, and a concussion. That’s when he found out the words “Die fag” had been carved into his arm with a blade.

By all accounts, everyone in Delta loves the Jones family. So residents are shocked that such violent homophobia could exist in their idyllic farming community.

“You kind of walk through a state of shock in a lot of ways, but the thing that congeals us and has kept us stable is that God is on our side,” Laurel Jones, Rick’s 33-year-old older sister told the Daily Dot on the phone Friday. “I know he’s protecting us in so many ways. It could have been worse. I really  do think that God’s hand is protecting us.”

Jones said that even though sometimes she “just starts crying,” the community has come out to support the family during the entire struggle.

 “People have been giving us money to help with the medical bills from when Rick was hospitalized,” said Jones. “They’ve been helping watch our house. If Rick goes and hangs out somewhere, they make sure he’s not alone.” 

She said a friend who sings with a local choir even suggested throwing a fundraising concert.

“Delta is a great community,” Jones said. “Everybody is really sweet and loving. It’s one of those rare communities that really understands the definition of community. Delta is Mayberry, that’s how my mom describes it.”

So far, media coverage of the event has been limited to the feature in Gay Salt Lake and a small notice in the Millard County Chronicle Progress, which describes the incident as a “burglary and vandalism” with no mention of the anti-gay message carved in Jones’s arm.

In response to the assault, some LGBT residents of Salt Lake, which is about two and a half hours away by car, have arranged to caravan to Delta to support the family business.

“I read the article in the paper. I have a coworker who knows the kid personally. We were chatting and thought we could go down and spend a bunch of money and help the family out,” Salt Lake resident Terry Gillman told the Daily Dot.

Gillman had planned a trip to Idaho with four friends. But when they heard about the attacks in Delta, he said, they changed direction and decided to spend the weekend there instead. They’ll be joined by his sister and her daughter.

“I’m not necessarily going down there from a standpoint of bringing the LGBT army down there, it’s more about supporting this family,” Gillman said. “The family is supporting and loving their LGBT son. And we vote with our dollars. If we can bring money to this business to help them buy security cameras or whatever they need, then we should do it.”

The Salt Lake residents have also created a Facebook event for the caravan to try and rally local support. 

Salt Lake is generally known as an LGBT-friendly city. In fact, one Salt Lake school elected Utah’s first transgender prom queen and gay prom king this spring.

That said, Gillman is disappointed by the lack of media coverage of the anti-gay violence in nearby Delta.

“On the radio they had like a 3-second blurb, saying ‘It may be a hate crime.’ And I kind of laughed to myself because, I mean, carving ‘Die Fag’ into someone’s arm is definitely a hate crime,” Gillman said.

Laurel Jones said her brother was recovering from the physical aspect of the attacks, but the experience has caused great emotional stress for him. 

Still, the restaurant was busy today—and Rick was even cooking in the kitchen.

“People can try to break us apart, but we’re still strong and we still love each other,” Jones said. “We’re here to stay.”

Update 9:32am CT, July 1: Local police announced Tuesday that the wounds Rick Jones suffered were self-inflicting. “Our client is responsible for all of the incidents and that would include the cutting of his own skin,” attorney Paul Burke told the Salt Lake Tribune“From what I understand of this situation, this was a cry for help and it was a genuine cry for help.” The headline for this story has been updated accordingly.  

H/T Gay Salt Lake | Photo of Rick Jones via Gay Salt Lake

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.