MILWAUKEE (WDJT/CNN) - A Wisconsin family is breathing a sigh of relief after police say they’ve arrested a 61-year-old suspect in an alleged acid attack that started as a parking dispute.
Mahud Villalaz, 42, suffered second degree burns and severe scarring in the attack that happened just before 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Cameras captured the argument between Villalaz and the 61-year-old male suspect before what is believed to have been battery acid was thrown on Villalaz’s face.
"It started burning really bad. I started go screaming for help to the restaurant,” Villalaz said. "I don't want this guy near my kids, my family or anything like that."
Police arrested the suspect Saturday. They provided no details about how or where the arrest happened.
In a statement, the Villalaz family thanked the Milwaukee Police Department “for their efforts in bringing the attacker to justice.” They also thanked everyone for their thoughts and prayers.
The argument between the men allegedly started over parking but quickly escalated. Villalaz, who is Hispanic, says the suspect asked him why he came to the U.S. illegally. Villalaz told the man he’s a U.S. citizen.
Neighbors say the attack is a wake-up call for people who live in the area.
"Every day, it's getting a little bit harder for just a Hispanic male around here,” Oscar Huizar said.
Charges will be presented to the district attorney’s office in the coming days.
"I hope they give him what he deserves because that man did not deserve to have that thrown in his face like that,” neighbor Connie Miller said.
Villalaz's sister told The Associated Press on Monday that her brother believes the man was prepared and wanted to attack someone.
"He's in shock. He says he can't conceive how someone would be intent on harming someone like that," Villalaz said in Spanish.
She said her brother is recovering. She said the doctor who treated him said it helped that he immediately washed his face several times inside a restaurant. His family created a GoFundMe page to cover his medical expenses.
Data collected by the FBI showed a 17% increase in hate crimes across the U.S. in 2017, the third annual increase in a row. Anti-Hispanic incidents increased 24%, from 344 in 2016 to 427 in 2017, according to the FBI data. Of crimes motivated by hatred over race, ethnicity or ancestry, nearly half involved African Americans, while about 11% were classified as anti-Hispanic bias.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, released a study in July that found a 9% increase in hate crimes reported to police in major U.S. cities in 2018. Levin found a modest decrease in bias crimes against Hispanic or Latino people — from 103 in 2017 to 100 in 2018 — in 10 major cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. However, Levin has said the totals likely would have increased last year if not for an unexplained drop in anti-Hispanic bias crimes reported for Phoenix, from 25 in 2017 to 10 in 2018.