An assault in downtown Springfield caught on video has many locals saying it was spurred on by race.
National bloggers are calling it a hate crime. And, at least two white men with signs protesting the attack were seen downtown about 1 p.m. Friday.
However, Springfield Police Department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said, "As far as I know there's no reason to believe this was an assault that broke out due to race."
As of Friday evening, a post on the department's Facebook page had over 1,500 comments, some of which show the authors presume the victims, who are white, were attacked because of their race.
An Internet search of the attack brings up several blogs calling the attack a "shocking hate crime" and "savage racially motivated mob attack."
The victims, Meredith J. Cole, 19, and Alex J. Vessey, 23, suffered serious injuries after they were assaulted by six black males, according to the police department. The incident took place at 12:18 a.m. on Aug. 22 at 318 South Ave.
Cole herself on a Facebook page says the attack was not racially motivated. She used the N-word in referring to her attackers but said she labeled them that way because they did the attack; she said she is not racist.
She said the attack happened after the males acted disrespectful toward her in a downtown club, she and her boyfriend tried to get a better look at them outside — in order to alert police — the couple walked away, and the male attackers came up behind them and beat them.
Police have not released much detail of the possible motive for the attack. Cox said the male victim was upset with the group of males for allegedly "disrespecting his girlfriend" at a bar and confronted the group about it outside the bar.
Cox said police have possible names for some of the suspects, but are asking the public for help to positively identify those involved. A 47-second video of the assault was posted on the department's YouTube page. The police department has received several tips since the video was released Thursday, but Cox said it is too soon to know if the tips will lead to arrests.
The video shows the males run up behind a male and female in an alley and begin assaulting them for about 30 seconds.
The attackers appear focused on the male victim, hitting him from behind and kicking at his head and punching him as he fights back. The woman is also hit and thrown to the ground as she turns and tries to help the man.
About 1 p.m. Friday, two white men holding handwritten signs stood outside Bistro Market for a short time. The signs said "racial hypocrisy" and included other comments about black-on-white crime.
Bystanders said the men were protesting because of the assault caught on video.
The News-Leader's attempt to speak with the men failed; they moved from the spot before they could be interviewed.
Cox said she did not know about the protesters downtown on Friday, and said no police report was filed.
She attributes the online discussion about race to "everything that's going on in the country right now."
"This was kind of a rare incident and it kind of shook up Springfield to see that video 'cause it doesn't happen every day."
Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 417-864-1835.
— Assistant Managing Editor David Iseman contributed to this report.