Man faces attempted murder and hate crime charges in Koreatown hammer attack on woman

The 22-year-old South Korean man in a black T-shirt asked one question of the young woman before bludgeoning her repeatedly with a hammer.

“Are you Korean?”

Much about the random attack last Friday at a Koreatown strip mall remains unclear, but police said Thursday one thing seemed apparent: Jae Won Yang chose his victim because she was Korean, and a woman.

Last week’s attack, in front of a second-floor acupuncture clinic, has reverberated across the Pacific Ocean to rattle nerves and grab headlines in South Korea. The incident set off online debates about whether it was the latest in violent attacks against women in recent years that have triggered soul-searching about misogyny in the Asian nation.

Yang remains in custody in downtown Los Angeles on more than $1 million in bail, after he was charged Monday with attempted murder and an allegation that the attack was a hate crime.

In an interview with detectives, Yang said he attacked the victim, a 24-year-old who is also a South Korean national, because of her gender and nationality.

“Without saying anything else, he proceeded to strike her several times on her head with the intent to either kill or seriously injure her,” said Captain David Kowalski of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Olympic division.

Kowalski said the victim sustained “very serious injuries” but had since been released from the hospital.

Misogyny has been a heatedly debated topic in South Korea ever since a fatal attack last May of a young Korean woman in the trendy district of Gangnam. The 23-year-old woman was stabbed to death in a public restroom by a stranger, a 34-year-old man, who said he’d felt “ignored and belittled” by women. The attacker in that case suffered from mental health problems.

In several hundred online comments on news articles this week about the Koreatown attack, some Korean women expressed fear about their safety, while other commenters defended the man.

“Korean women must’ve done a lot to warrant a beating,” one comment on the website Nate.com read.

Many criticized media reports describing the attack as “random,” saying it was clearly targeting women. Others accused the reports of inserting gender into the equation and forcing the impression of a misogynistic attack.

Surveillance footage of the incident in Koreatown showed the young woman, with bangs and in a dark colored dress, leaning against a second-floor railing, while on her phone. Yang, carrying a backpack, is seen approaching her and then, after a brief exchange, walking away.

Shortly thereafter, he returned with a hammer that police said may have been in his backpack, and immediately began striking her in the head. The victim fell to the floor and shielded her face and head with her arms.

Hearing her screams, a security guard ran to her aid, police said. Yang is shown in the video raising his hands when the guard and another man arrived. The two men subdued him until officers and paramedics arrived, according to police.

Yang came to the U.S. in mid-February under the visa-waiver program, said Bojun Kim, a consul with the South Korean consulate general in Los Angeles. The victim was in the country on a J-1 visa, for an internship, Kim said.

Kim, who met with Yang after his arrest, said the man was rambling and nonsensical about the motive behind the attack. He does not speak any English, Kim said.

The young woman sustained injuries to her head as well as on her hands and arms, apparently while attempting to block blows on her head, Kim said. She appeared to be deeply traumatized, he said.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

Twitter: @vicjkim

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UPDATES:

6:46 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from an LAPD press conference.

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