News » Crime

Tenn. Health Store Owner Attacked in Alleged Hate Crime

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday November 25, 2013

Three men viciously beat the owner of a health food store in Tennessee on Nov. 20, in what some are calling an anti-gay hate crime, Tennessee's ABC-affiliate station WBBJ reports,

According to WBBJ, the owner of Healthy Thyme in Paris, Tenn., (about 145 northwest of Memphis), was beaten unconscious and robbed of $1,200. A "three letter homophobic slur" was also written on the victim's forehead with a marker.

Fox 17 has identified the victim as Joe Williams, 32, and reports that Healthy Thyme is family-owned and has been in business for 15 years.

"You know I don't know whether you need to carry a gun with you at all times or have a security system. There's just no way of knowing," Ronnie Russell, a customer of Healthy Thyme, told WBBJ.

The Paris Post-Intelligencer cites a Paris police department report that says $1,500 was stolen and that the store was set on fire, causing and additional $5,500 in damage. According to the newspaper, the crime took place around 5:30 p.m. last Wednesday as Healthy Thyme's workers were closing up for the night. The victim told police that a man came through the employee entrance asking for help for his sick daughter. When the employee went to get a product for the man, the attacker asked about his sexual preference before beating him.

According to the police report, two other men joined in on the attack, and both were wearing ski masks and black jackets. The employee also said he was called derogatory names while he was attacked, according to the report.

The victim said he was attacked until he lost consciousness and when he awoke he saw the men pouring gasoline near the front of the store. Police later found a milk jug near the cash register that contained gas.

The victim also said a man came in earlier the same day and asked him about his sexual preference, saying that he could not shop there if he is gay.

The Paris fire department is currently investigating the fire while the Paris police department looks into the robbery.

No arrests have been made, WBBJ reports, but the police report describes the men as white, and that one was about 6-feet tall and 200 pounds with short brown hair, brown eyes and a goatee.

"I just fear for my life," Williams told Fox 17. "I'm to the point now where I'm worried to even go outside ... I live my life as a gay man and wasn't ashamed of it and I just feel that I was targeted for that for that reason."