SAN ANTONIO — The shooting of three women of Korean descent at a Dallas hair salon appeared to be part of a pattern of shootings at Asian businesses around the North Texas city, the chief of police said on Friday, citing the presence of a similar burgundy minivan at the scene of two other shootings.
The discovery immediately altered the course of the investigation into the shooting, which took place on Wednesday afternoon. Investigators had not initially believed that the salon shooting was a hate crime and the chief of police, Eddie Garcia, said earlier in the week that nothing indicated such a motive.
“I had given you an update on this case and at that time in the investigation we did not have any indication that this crime was hate-motivated,” Chief Garcia told reporters on Friday. “As of this afternoon, that has changed. There may be a link to hate.”
The emergence of a possible connection between the salon shooting and gunfire at other businesses that cater to the region’s growing Asian population has prompted detectives to consider whether they are dealing with a series of targeted attacks. The chief said reports of what appeared to be a similar vehicle suggested a possible connection between the latest incident and two other shootings in recent weeks where a gunman appeared to be targeting Asian-run establishments.
“The other incidents were more of a drive-by type,” the chief said.
The salon shooting had already rattled the close-knit Asian American community in Dallas. It came amid a national rise of violence against Asian Americans and evoked the shooting rampage last year at a string of spas in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, most of them women of Asian heritage.
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On Wednesday afternoon, an unidentified man walked onto Hair World Salon in an Asian immigrant enclave in North Dallas, uttered a few unknown words and opened fire, seemingly unprovoked. The police had initially said the victims were of Korean descent but could not discern if the man had targeted them because of their perceived race or gender.
Video from the scene showed a man clad in black and carrying a long rifle. He shot three women, wounding them, before rushing from the scene. All were expected to survive. The man then fled in a maroon minivan, the police said.
A month earlier, on April 2, a gunman opened fire from a car at Asian-run businesses along the same block, Chief Garcia said. There were no injuries reported. Witnesses described the car as a red minivan.
On Tuesday, a day before the salon shooting, a “burgundy car or minivan” was spotted leaving the scene of another incident in which shots were fired but no one was injured, the chief said.
No one has been arrested in any of the cases.
The community where the salon shooting took place is known as the Asian Trade District and is within the city’s Koreatown. It is home to a growing Asian American population, and signs for Korean hair salons and Korean barbecue shops can be seen along the busy Royal Lane.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up nearly 4 percent of the population in Dallas, or 48,278 people, according to the U.S. census.
The Dallas Police Department has long had a unit made up of officers who speak languages including Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog, part of an effort to address crime concerns in Asian neighborhoods. Despite these efforts, police officials said that many crimes against Asian Americans continue to go unreported.
Chief Garcia said on Friday that the department would be increasing patrols in Asian neighborhoods of the city. “Hate has no place here,” he said.
Across the country, there was a troubling wave of crimes targeting Asian Americans at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with 279 “bias incidents” in 2020, up from 158 in 2019, according to data released by the F.B.I.
An organization that collects data on bias crimes against Asian Americans, Stop AAPI Hate, said it had received 10,905 reports of hate-related attacks from March 2020 through the end of last year. Verbal harassment made up the largest portion of reported attacks, followed by physical attacks, according to the organization.
Elected officials around Dallas said they were committed to supporting the city’s Asian community.
“The Southeast Asian and Asian community in North Texas is growing and has great cultural and political importance, and I really am saddened by anything that would make them feel like a persecuted demographic here,” said State Senator Nathan Johnson, a Democrat who represents the area.
The fact that a hair salon was targeted inspired initial comparisons to the high-profile murders in the Atlanta area last year, when a gunman went on a rampage at three spas and killed eight people, most of them women of Asian ancestry. The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, who was 21 at the time, later told the police that he had frequented similar massage parlors because he had a “sexual addiction” and that he had carried out the shootings to eliminate his “temptation.”