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A man charged with hate crimes after allegedly assaulting seven Asian women in Manhattan on Sunday has struggled with mental health issues for years, according to his mother.
Steven Zajonc, 28, was arrested on Wednesday evening in connection with the unprovoked assaults, which all took place in a span of just two hours. Police said he punched, elbowed or shoved his victims, two of whom were hospitalized.
He was charged with seven counts of assault and attempted assault, which have all been classified as hate crimes. He was also charged with seven counts of aggravated harassment and harassment.
Zajonc, who is believed to be homeless, is originally from New York. But he lived in Florida with his mother up until 2020, when they parted ways following a “domestic incident”.
🚨WANTED-ASSAULTS (Hate Crime): 2/27/22 from 6:30PM to 8:37PM, Seven incidents in various Manhattan South Precincts. In all 7 cases the suspect punched Asian female victims. Any info call us at 800-577-TIPS or anonymously post a tip to https://t.co/TRPPY5zHV2 Reward UP to $3,500 pic.twitter.com/NJu3zTtYDe
— NYPD Crime Stoppers (@NYPDTips) March 2, 2022
On Thursday, Zajonc’s mother spoke with local news program “8 On Your Side” and revealed that her son has battled mental health issues for several years. Court records reportedly show that she herself had petitioned a no-contact order against him in 2020 after he “threatened to kill” her.
While he lived in Florida, Zajonc was committed under the state’s Mental Health Act multiple times, his mother said. The law, also known as the Baker Act, allows people who pose a risk of harm themselves or others to be held involuntarily at an approved treatment facility for up to 72 hours.
Zajonc is also an Army vet, having served as a private between February 2015 and March 2016, according to the Daily Mail. A spokesperson told the outlet, however, that he was never deployed, and it is unknown why he left the military.
Zajonc’s mother believes her son was having an “episode” during Sunday’s attacks. It remains unknown why he targeted Asian women, but his mother claimed that he appreciated Asian culture and had wanted to learn how to speak Japanese.
Zajonc’s youngest victim was a 19-year-old college student. He allegedly elbowed her in the face at around 7:05 p.m. near Union Square East and East 17th Street.
The victim, who was still bleeding from her mouth by Tuesday, told PIX11 that she felt “helpless” after the assault.
“I think it’s terrible, he should be arrested,” she said.
Sunday’s assault spree came less than a week after 61-year-old Guiying Ma died as a result of another anti-Asian attack last November. Ma was the fourth Asian victim in New York City to have died as a result of a violent attack in the last two months, following Yao Pan Ma, Michelle Go and Christina Yuna Lee.
Zajonc’s mother told “8 On Your Side” that her son would never hurt anyone “in his right mind.” She said she would like to send her deepest apologies to his victims.
Featured Image via New York Police Department (left) and CBS News (right)