A pair of white Florida men have been charged with hate crimes after they fired gunshots and shouted racial slurs while confronting two biracial siblings walking home from a convenience store last Sunday evening, the Lake County Sheriff's Department said.
On March 17, James Robert Reidnauer and Brent Van Besien allegedly confronted a 16-year-old boy and his 12-year-old sister on their walk home from a Leesburg, Florida, gas station, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast.
Deputies allege Reidnauer, 30, and Van Besien, 33, fired at least two shots near the kids before yelling several racial slurs at them, including calling the teenage boy a “n***er fuckboy.”
“We’re so grateful, thank god they were able to get home,” Michelle Sabb, the children’s mother, told WFTV-9 Wednesday. “Because there are a lot of kids, Trayvon [Martin]—he didn’t make it home. What if my son wouldn’t have made it home?”
The two men told officers they thought the siblings were “meth heads,” claiming they’d fired warning shots “to prevent them from breaking into a house,” the arrest affidavit states. Both are facing two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, with an enhanced hate-crime charge.
Van Besien is also charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon for his alleged use of a shotgun, since Florida is not an open carry state.
It was not immediately clear if either man has an attorney.
According to the affidavit, the two kids were walking home from the gas station last Sunday evening and decided to take a shortcut on a trail behind a nearby church when they were “confronted by two white men who asked what they were doing.”
“There is a path behind all of the homes on this road that all the children take to the bus stop,” Sabb said Wednesday, adding that her kids walked “almost daily” to buy candy and never encountered a problem. “The bus stop is in front of the church over here on Goose Prairie, and that’s the route they take anywhere.”
The 16-year-old boy told the men they were just walking home—to which Reidnauer responded by firing “one shot from a handgun into the ground near where he and his sister were standing,” the affidavit states. Van Besien then allegedly called the teen a “n***er fuckboy” before firing another bullet near the 12-year-old’s foot.
As the siblings fled toward their house, Reidnauer allegedly yelled: “Get out of here n***ers!”
Sabb immediately called the police after her two children relayed what had happened, and the pair were arrested around 10:10 pm, deputies said.
In a police interview, Reidnauer said a “brown guy and a white girl”—whom he described as “meth heads” in their 20s or 30s—were “walking around through the area” and “acting suspiciously,” the affidavit said. The two men insisted they believed the children were trying to break into a house.
Van Besien, who denied using a shotgun, described the two children as “a black or brown guy and a white girl,” though the responding deputy wrote in the report that “he then changed his story saying he never actually got a good look at the people because he was quite a distance away.”
Deputies recovered one shell casing matching Reidnauer’s handgun at the scene. Both men deny using racial slurs during the encounter, the affidavit states.
The pair were booked into the Lake County Jail just after midnight on March 18, and are currently being held on $200,000 bond.
Reidnauer—who lives on the street where the incident occurred—was previously arrested in 2016 for domestic abuse of a disabled adult, records show.
Van Besien, an Iowa native who works in “sales,” has been arrested four other times in Lake County since 2015, according to his charging documents. The other crimes include: battery, violation of protection order, domestic battery by strangulation, witness tampering, and robbery with firearm. It’s unclear how those cases were resolved.