MILWAUKEE – A 61-year-old man has been arrested in connection with an acid attack on Milwaukee’s south side Friday night that police are investigating as a hate crime.
Mahud Villalaz, 42, who is an American citizen, suffered second-degree burns to his face after a man he described as being white and in his 50s or 60s berated him and threw acid at him.
In security video first obtained by WISN-TV, the two men are seen talking in front of a restaurant when the suspect points at Villalaz and then tosses the acid at his face.
Villalaz can be seen stumbling away from the man, who then slowly walks toward Villalaz.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help pay for Villalaz’s medical bills and lost wages while he recovers and gets additional medical treatment. Villalaz is a welder and continues to suffer from blurred vision in his left eye stemming from the attack.
By 5:30 p.m. Sunday, $700 had been raised toward a $15,000 goal.
On the GoFundMe page, his sister Priscilla Villalaz thanked police for making the arrest and thanked well-wishers who reached out to them.
“My family and I want to thank everyone for all of the support especially from the people that we don’t know. We have seen your comments on Facebook. You all have no idea how much we appreciate it,” Priscilla Villalaz wrote.
Villalaz suffered second-degree burns to his face after the suspect, who had been standing at a bus stop near 13th and Cleveland, berated him and threw acid at him.
Milwaukee police said they arrested the 61-year-old man in connection with an aggravated battery that happened near the same intersection Friday night, but have not confirmed that it was the acid attack.
“Currently, they’re still under investigation making sure they have the correct person in custody and the family just wants them to keep them in their thoughts and prayers,” said Eileen Figueroa, director at Forward Latino, speaking on behalf of the family.
The attack occurred around 8:30 p.m. when Villalaz parked his truck outside La Sierrita Restaurant, 2689 S 13th St., and began to head inside for dinner.
Villalaz said the man first approached him to tell him he had parked illegally.
“‘You cannot park here. You are doing something illegal,'” Villalaz recalled the man saying.
The comments quickly adopted an anti-immigrant tone.
“‘Why did you come here and invade my country?'” Villalaz said the man asked him.
Villalaz ignored the man and moved his truck one block forward. As he returned to the restaurant, the man began accusing him anew of being in the U.S. illegally.
Villalaz, who grew up in Peru and immigrated to the United States as a young man, is a U.S. citizen.
Priscilla Villalaz said on the GoFundMe page that “Mahud could see the hate in his eyes and the man continued to say that Latinos and other nationalities don’t belong here, that we are just invading the American country. Mahud got very upset from his hateful words. He couldn’t believe that he was hearing someone say all these hurtful hate words.
“Mahud responded with the following words, ‘People come here from other countries for a better life. The only people who have been here longer than anyone else are the Native Americans.’ “
When he told the man he was, in fact, a citizen, the man “got mad,” he said. He tossed the acid at Villalaz, who turned his head. The substance covered the left side of his face.
Villalaz then went inside La Sierrita to wash the burning acid off his face.
“He came inside screaming and asking for help,” said waitress Brenda Hernandez, who was working that night. “We didn’t see what had happened because we were working. When he came in we did everything we could do to help wash his face.
“It’s kind of scary that there are people out there still like that.”
Hernandez said it was comforting to know the suspect was in custody.
Priscilla Villalaz wrote on the GoFundMe page that her brother “wants everyone to be safe and when someone approaches you with hateful words, just walk away. Don’t argue with them, just walk away. People like this are convinced that if we don’t have white skin we don’t belong here. They won’t listen to you and will do something like this or even worse.”
Others in the neighborhood said an attack like that is scary for the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.
“That random attack scares people. How is someone carrying something like that around?” said Ruben Pedroza, who lives on the same block as the restaurant and is a friend of Villalaz.
Pedroza said he and others on the block did not know the attacker.
“I’ve never seen that man,” he said, based on descriptions of the attacker.
Follow Jordyn Noennig and Meg Jones on Twitter: @jordyntnoennig and @MegJonesJS