Earlier this week, a 24-year-old Tampa-area resident named Cameron Mohammed was walking with his girlfriend into Walmart at around 3 a.m. when the two were approached from behind by a 25-year-old named Daniel Quinnell. Quinnell allegedly yelled racial epithets at the two, then fired 20 shots at Mohammed with a pellet gun — pictured above — striking him multiple times in the head and neck. Mohammed was armed, too — but with a real .45 caliber pistol. He chose not to shoot.
"I don't know. I just couldn't do it," Mohammed said, recovering at his Tampa home two days after the attack. "I couldn't blow this guy away for something he could change later in life. I'm not going to decide this man's fate."
The story is a bizarre, hard-to-reconcile mixture of both right and wrong. The genesis of the attack is something very, very far into the "wrong" column, and when coupled with the recent death of Sunando Sen in New York City, it illustrates just how terrifying America can still be for anyone that even in the vaguest terms codes to the ignorant as "Muslim."
Investigators had released surveillance video of the shooting and photographs of the suspect to the media Thursday. In the video, from Walmart in Lutz, a man deputies say is Quinnell approaches the couple from behind as they walk into the store about 3 a.m. Wednesday. He asked Mohammed if he was Muslim or from the Middle East, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Mohammed said no, but, authorities said, Quinnell shot him at close range with a gas-propelled pellet gun while saying "n——- with a white girl."
Like Sen, Mohammed is not Muslim. Neither were from the Middle East — Sen was born in India; Mohammed was born in Trinidad and raised in Tampa. That didn't matter to Quinnell, who told police that "they're all the same" after being informed that Mohammed isn't Muslim. It also didn't matter to Erika Menendez, the woman who murdered Sen and used "Muslim" and "Hindu" as interchangeable terms in her statements to police. But an unexpected part of the story is that in Quinnell's case the system worked, at least as much as it can under current law.
Quinnell, who declined an interview request by the Times, has been arrested 10 times in Florida since 2006, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Many of the arrests involved battery charges and violent threats.
As a felon, Quinnell was banned from carrying firearms. That's why, he told deputies Thursday night, he carried the pellet gun instead. He told them he burned the gun after the shooting.
Mohammed will have surgery to remove a few of the pellets, and the most lasting pain will be the trauma of being the victim of a hate crime — one in which he was shot in the face for being something that he isn't. It could have been worse, and for many it has. But it also could have been worse — way, way worse — for Quinnell, had he chosen a victim that decided to do what almost any other person carrying a gun would have done.
[Mohammed] said he has been dating his girlfriend for a year and a half. He said she told him that night that Quinnell was staring at her menacingly as they pulled into the parking lot to get some food.
Mohammed says he remembers giving the man a wide berth as he passed in his car.
At some point during the shooting, Mohammed said, his girlfriend must have remembered a conversation the couple had months ago. He told her if they were ever in a dangerous situation, she should keep quiet and find safe cover.
In the Walmart surveillance footage, as the assailant sweeps from behind and levels his gun, Mohammed's girlfriend disappears behind a column, safe from fire.
After taking two pellets to his head and neck, Mohammed stands and watches the man flee, then notices a bystander who could have been hit if Mohammed had taken a shot. His hand is on his gun. But it stays in the holster.