UPDATE: Three suspects have been arrested in connection with this crime. Read more here.
A 26-year-old gay man says he was the victim of a brutal hate crime early Sunday in Reno, Texas — a small town just east of Paris and about 100 miles northeast of Dallas.
Burke Burnett said he was at a private party at about 1 a.m. when four men suddenly attacked him, stabbing him at least twice with a broken beer bottle before throwing him onto a fire. His attackers yelled things like “pussy-ass faggot,” “gay bitch” and “cock-sucking punk,” Burnett said.
“They knew I was gay,” Burnett said Monday. “I’m convinced they were trying to kill me.”
Jeff Sugg, interim chief of the Reno Police Department, released a statement Monday afternoon saying: “The Reno Police Department is currently investigating an aggravated assault that took place last weekend. The investigation is ongoing and additional information will be provided when available.”
Reno police officials declined to further discuss their investigation.
Burnett said the officer investigating the case told him the attack will be classified as a hate crime. But Burnett said his attackers, whose identities are known, remain at large, and the officer told him it could be two weeks before they’re arrested.
“I’m scared for my life,” Burnett said, adding that he’s staying with a family friend. “I’m scared to go home. These guys have nothing to lose.”
Burnett said he grew up in Paris and came out as gay when he was 15. He knows at least one of his attackers personally. Two of the suspects have been to prison and may be on parole, he said.
Burnett said he’s attended several parties at the residence and was invited by his straight friend who lives there. He arrived at the party several hours earlier with three gay friends. However, the group left after someone at the party was overheard making anti-gay remarks such as, “These faggots don’t deserve to be here. Somebody needs to get them out of there.” Burnett said he didn’t hear the remarks and wasn’t aware of them when he returned to the party later in the evening with one of his girlfriends.
Burnett said he was sitting inside a large metal shed called “the party shop” when he was blindsided with a punch to his left eye. When he got up and tried to defend himself, one of his attackers stabbed him in the back with a broken beer bottle. Burnett called the stab wound “a kill shot” but said fortunately it didn’t puncture his lung.
One of the suspects stabbed him a second time in the right forearm — cutting into the muscle but missing an artery — before he was thrown onto a lit burn barrel.
At that point, some of Burnett’s girlfriends managed to slow down the attackers enough so that he could escape to a vehicle. None of the other 20 people at the party attempted to stop the attack, he said.
Burnett’s girlfriends eventually drove him to a hospital in Sulphur Springs, about 30 miles away.
Burnett said he’s hoping none of his injuries are permanent. He’s scheduled to return to the doctor on Friday.
Chivas Clem, one of Burnett’s gay friends who accompanied him to the party, contacted Dallas Voice and other media outlets about the attack Monday morning. Chivas said he fears people in the small, conservative town will try to brush the incident under the rug.
“I intend to make sure the Police Department follows through with this, and that the local press covers it,” Chivas said. “When I saw him [Burnett], I vomited because he looked so bad — and I cried.”
Another one of Burnett’s gay friends, Austin Holloman, said he’s heard police are considering downgrading the charges to misdemeanors because the attack occurred at a party. Holloman said he recently moved to Paris to live with his partner, who’s from there and has known Burnett since childhood.
“We don’t want people thinking this is OK in this area,” Holloman said. “We plan on being here forever.”