DETROIT — A Michigan State University student said he was attacked at an off-campus party by two men who asked if he was Jewish, and when he said he was, punched him and then stapled his mouth.
CBS Detroit reported that Zachary Tennen, a 19-year-old sophomore in MSU’s journalism program, said he was at a house party on the 500 block of Spartan Avenue early Sunday morning when two men approached him and asked if he was Jewish. When he responded “Yes,” the two men raised their arms into a Nazi salute and said “Heil Hitler” before knocking him unconscious, according to Tennen’s mother, Tina.
"They told Zach that they didn't like African-Americans and they didn't like Jews. They were members of the KKK. They were neo-Nazis, and they were going to be putting a hurt on him," Zachary's father Bruce told MyFox Detroit.
Bruce Tennen also said Zachary saw a guy pull out an office stapler.
"He recalls waking up and seeing a stapler, that they were stapling his gums and trying to hurt him and that he felt he was going to die," Bruce said.
About 20 people reportedly watched as the men proceeded to staple Zachary’s mouth shut at the lips and gums. His jaw was broken in two places during the attack.
“They knocked me down really hard … and I assumed someone would help me,” Zachary said in a statement. “But after some guys at the house basically kicked me out, I had to get a cab.”
Zachary hailed a cab and went to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing for treatment. After jaw surgery, he is home in the Detroit suburb of Franklin recovering, MyFox reported.
"It's shameful that in 21st century America, such religious hatred exists in our country," Zachary said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "No one should ever be subjected to the horror I experienced."
But police in East Lansing said Tuesday the incident probably isn't a hate crime, and neither police nor Tennen's statement provided details about the attack, including how many people were present.
East Lansing police did not return several calls from The Associated Press asking for more information. The department's statement said the assault was "not likely a hate crime," but did not explain the criteria for classifying a case as a hate crime or why the Tennen assault did not rise to that level.
The statement said police have located two witnesses and identified a potential suspect, who "does not live in the area."
Michigan State spokesman Kent Cassella said because the incident took place off campus, questions about the investigation should be directed to East Lansing police. Cassella said the university had reached out to Tennen's family "to provide the academic and other support" he needs.
"MSU will work with the student and his professors to ensure he can fulfill his academic requirements, as we would with any student in need," Cassella said.
Tennen did not immediately respond to a message left with follow-up questions.
Stephen Goldman, executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, said while he and others at the center "abhor bias-type incidents," they are rare in Michigan, which he said is known for its "progressive" thinking.
"I would not expect it in East Lansing any more than I would expect it here" in the Detroit area, Goldman said. "This is a very accepting area."