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Marcus Owens’ family and friends said there could only be one motive for an attack that sent the 19-year-old University of Iowa freshman to the hospital. Investigators agree.

The Iowa City police said on Wednesday they are investigating the off-campus assault as a hate crime, the Chicago Tribune reports. Owens is recovering from the attack that occurred on Saturday night outside an Iowa City lounge. According to WLS-TV, the family said Owens needed stitches to his lip, had his front teeth knocked out, and sustained damage to his eye socket.

Owens’ uncle, Darrell Owens, told the Tribune that it was an unprovoked attack. Owens and his friends went out at the end of a week of writing term papers and final exams. He stepped outside to make a phone call when three men yelled racial slurs at his nephew before beating him up. “Thank God, a bystander yelled and ran up and scared them away, otherwise who knows what would have happened,” Darrell Owens told the Chicago Tribune.

He was escorted to his dorm before going to the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinic, where doctors released him on Monday. Owens reported the incident to Iowa City police on Monday night.

According to WLS-TV, Owens told his family he believes at least one of the attackers is a University of Iowa student. “Based on information presented by the victim, this case is being investigated as a hate crime,” Iowa City police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said in a statement, the Tribune reports.

In the ongoing investigation, police said the suspects are three White men between the ages 19 and 22.

Darrell Owens said his nephew, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, is focused on getting a good education. “African-American kids are often portrayed as thugs with their pants hanging down. That is not this kid,” he told the Chicago Tribune.

Melvin Owens III, the victim’s older brother, told the newspaper he was surprised that someone would attack his brother, a business major at the university: “Marcus is one of the nicest kids. He’s really easygoing. People are attracted to that.”

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld said he and the dean of students met with Owens and his family. The school released this statement, via the Chicago Tribune:

“We are saddened and outraged by the horrible event that transpired Saturday evening. This kind of violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated… Students have a right to feel safe on this campus.”

There was criticism that campus police officials sent Owens to the local police to report the crime. Harreld acknowledged, in the full statement, that the university’s protocol is “a failure.” He added that the university is working to make the crime reporting process more efficient.

SOURCE: Chicago Tribune, WLS-TV, KCRG-TV9 | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Facebook

SEE ALSO:

Iowa Man Who Said He Was Allergic To Black People Arrested For Hate Crime

3 White Students Dodge Hate Crime Conviction After Assaulting Black Roommate

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