An Asian man accused of kidnapping and attempting to sexually assault an Asian woman because he thought she was white has been arrested and charged in Irvine, California last week.
Michael Sangbong Rhee, 37, of Lake Forest, allegedly targeted the victim while she was sitting in her car in the area of Harvard Avenue and Coronado Street around 1:30 p.m. on April 8.
Armed with a handgun, Rhee first ordered the woman to get in the back of the vehicle if she wanted to live, Irvine police said. The victim offered her wallet and money, but Rhee said they would “do that later.”
Rhee opened the rear passenger door and pushed the woman onto the backseat. He then sexually assaulted her in the ensuing struggle, police said.
The victim managed to shout to a nearby maintenance worker that Rhee was armed. This forced him to run through an apartment community and escape with his vehicle.
Surveillance cameras captured Rhee’s license plate. Officers tracked him to his home in Lake Forest — where they found additional evidence — and arrested him Thursday night.
Rhee was booked at the Orange County jail for kidnapping with the intent to commit a sexual assault. His bail costs $1 million.
Based on the investigation and Rhee’s own statements, detectives believe that he targeted the woman because he thought she was white. They also believe the assault was committed in retaliation for hate crimes against Asian Americans.
As a result, Rhee is expected to face hate crime charges himself. The investigation remains open and anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Haldor Larum at 949-724-7194 or [email protected].
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