Family and friends describe Danny Vega as kind, loving and full of life.
The 58-year-old hairdresser was cherished by both Seattle’s Filipino and gay and lesbian communities. They must now mourn his tragic death. According to published reports, on the night of Nov. 15, three teenagers brutally attacked Vega near 42nd Ave S. and S. Othello St. in South Seattle. So severe were his injuries that he fell in and out of consciousness, slipping into a coma and passing away Sunday morning, Nov. 27. Hospital officials could not comment on the exact cause of death.
Vega’s beating and death shook the people who loved him and the community he was embraced by.
“[It was] beyond imaginable,” said one of Vega’s roommates, who did not want to be identified.
“I’m just lost for words,” said Vega’s long-time friend, Aleksa Manila, Miss Gay Seattle 2004 and Miss Gay Filipino 2011.
To stay in shape, friends say Vega often strolled his neighborhood of South Seattle.
Ernie Rios, the owner of Inay’s Asian Pacific Cuisine, a restaurant on Beacon Hill, said Vega visited twice a week. “Every time he comes [to Inay’s], he tells me he likes to be in shape. That’s why he walked around after work.”
“In my opinion, I don’t think I will walk there by myself… especially [when] it’s dark,” said Rios, “[But Vega] walks by himself all the time.”
Some friends also worried Vega could be targeted for being openly gay.
Unfortunately, on one of Vega’s evening walks, his friends’ fears came true. Three unidentified teenagers attacked him from behind, hitting Vega with their fists and feet, and stealing his cell phone, house keys and clothing, according to published reports. Vega then passed out for 30 to 45 minutes before waking up and stumbling home.
“When Danny came home … he was shaking,” recalled Vega’s roommate, who took him to Harborview Hospital immediately after seeing his injuries.
“He asked me, ‘Am I downstairs or am I upstairs?’ I thought he as hallucinating. Then his roomate turned on the lights, and saw that his left eye was severely damaged. “His right eye was squinty, his upper lip was swollen, and his tee-shirt was bloody.”
“On the day of the accident … he was able to talk to me,” said Vega’s niece, Melanie Galimba. She said she talked to her uncle before he fell into a coma, “His chest was hurting so bad … He said [the assailants were] three African Americans. He said they were screaming [at him].”
However, Vega did not get a chance to specify what the attackers were screaming about before losing consciousness.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn issued a statement on Nov. 28, stating: “Our police department’s Homicide and Assault Unit are actively investigating this crime. Some have suggested that Mr. Vega’s killers targeted him because he was an openly gay man. The police department is fully investigating this possibility.”
According to Thelma Galimba, Vega’s sister, the police classified Vega as a “homicide victim” but are currently re-evaluating their decision. SPD authorities declined to discuss further details of the investigation but said the department is “following up on all leads and possibilities.”
“Right now [the police] don’t have any leads. They don’t have enough evidence [to classify it as a hate crime],” said Melanie Galimba.
According to the FBI’s website, a hate crime, or a bias crime, is defined as “a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.” For a case to be a bias crime, the perpetrator must call the victim a racial slur, the victim must feel intimidated by it, and feel that that’s the only reason they are being attacked. Complicating the characteristics even further is that each state has different criteria.
“No one witnessed name-calling, but…people don’t leave the person for dead,” suspected Vega’s roommate.
Despite a lack of evidence, Vega’s family and friends believe that the attack was completely intentional. “The family truly believes it is a hate crime,” added Melanie Galimba.
Vega’s friend, Manila, agrees. “I know I don’t have the details, but knowing the gravity of violence inflicted on him makes me lean heavily towards a hate crime. We’re told the attackers took his phone and keys. I can’t just imagine it was that brutal for a set of house keys and a cell phone. Danny is an openly gay man. Everybody but the police is saying it’s a hate crime. That has to mean something.”
Manila believes a lack of awareness is contributing to the injustice.
“I think what’s lacking is the cultural competency and relevance of hate crimes related to LGBTQ when it comes to the law enforcement,” said Manila. “When other crimes such as theft or burglary are entangled, it’s so easy to dismiss a hate crime. When you’re gay, you know what a hate crime is. Even friends and allies believe it to be so. Three teenagers brutally attacked a gentle and kind man. Please tell me that’s not about hate.”
Manila, who is the former honorable commissioner for the City of Seattle Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBTQ) commission, is “personally making efforts to advocate for the police to re-evaluate this tragic event as a hate crime as many of his friends and his family see it as such.” Manila is currently in contact with the LGBTQ commission with the City of Seattle.
Along with Manila, many others, including members of the Filipino community, are advocating for Vega’s attack to be classified as a hate crime. Their diligence has motivated the police to re-evaluate the incident as a potential hate crime, which could lead to prosecution on hate crime charges and higher penalties for the perpetrators.
A community meeting on Nov. 30 at the Filipino Community Center discussed Vega’s case. Vega’s family, members of the Police Advisory Council, and members of the Filipino community were present.
On Dec. 4 at the Church of Hope in Seattle, a community gathering and potluck was hosted jointly by the API Safety Center & Chaya and the Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse.
Vega’s viewing is tentatively set for Thursday and Friday, Dec. 8 and 9. His funeral is tentatively set for Saturday, Dec. 10. Anyone with information about the case can call the SPD with tips at (206) 233-5000.