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Customers sprayed with gasoline in apparent hate crime

The suspect told the victims they "don't belong here" after hearing them speak Spanish and then sprayed gas on them, Aurora Police said.

AURORA, Colo. — Police were trying to identify a man in a suspected bias-motivated crime at a gas station in Aurora on July 23.

The Aurora Police Department (APD) said the man confronted two customers who were speaking Spanish at about 11 p.m. at the Rocket Gas Station in the 1100 block of South Havana Street.

The man told the victims they "don't belong here" and followed them to their car, according to police.

He sprayed the victims with gasoline and looked for a lighter to set them on fire but did not find one, police said. The suspect then threw a rock through the back window of the victims' vehicle and stole their keys.

The victims suffered minor injuries, police said.

"It's not right to just to pour gas, let alone hate on someone because of their skin color, their language they speak, religion or anything like that," said Chris Martinez, a cashier at Rockets Phillips 66 Gas Station where the incident happened. 

Martinez said he arrived to work that night just after the suspect had left, but reviewed the security footage and shared what the suspect yelled, according to a cashier who was working at the time.

"'You're not welcome here. We don't like your kind.' And that was only because he was speaking Spanish," Martinez said. 

A person who said they were one of the customers involved in the incident, but did not want to be identified, told 9NEWS that the suspect also punched the neck of the other victim before throwing the rock.

"I was scared, but I couldn't turn my back on him because he would knock me down," the person said in Spanish. "Now imagine that. He would have finished me. I don't know what was going on with him."

The suspect was described as being about 20 to 25 years old, and between 5 feet, 6 inches tall and 5 feet, 9 inches tall. He was driving a gray Dodge Charger GT with black trim.

Anyone with information was asked to contact police at 303-627-1661 or StopHate@auroragov.org.

In September 2021, the APD created a "bias-motivated crime unit" with one dedicated detective. 

APD Sgt. Faith Goodrich said the department also created ways for community members to anonymously report these crimes. 

From July through November of last year, data provided to 9NEWS showed that there were 17 reported 'bias crimes.'

From January through June of this year, there have been 23.

"We also increased education with our officers and community members," Goodrich said. "We believe this led to an increase in reporting and identification of crimes that were bias-motivated. We are committed to fully-investigating these cases and providing a safe space for all members of our community."  

RELATED: Restaurant workers confronted gunman after he killed multiple people in Denver and Lakewood

Anyone with information can also call Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867 or visit metrodenvercrimestoppers.com. Tipsters can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward of up to $2,000. 

Metro Denver Crime Stoppers works by assigning a code to people who anonymously submit a tip. Information is shared with law enforcement, and Crime Stoppers is notified at the conclusion of the investigation. 

From there, an awards committee reviews the information provided and, if the information leads to an arrest, the tipster will be notified. Rewards can be collected using the code numbers received when the tip was originally submitted. 

> More information about Metro Denver Crime Stoppers can be found here. 

> Additional Crime Stoppers bulletins can be found here. 

RELATED: July is recognized as BIPOC Mental Health Month

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