Matthew Quain still struggles to piece together what happened after a trip to the grocery store nearly turned deadly. He remembers a group of loitering young people, a dimly lit street — then nothing.
The 51-year-old became another victim of “Knockout King” or simply “Knock Out,” a so-called game of unprovoked violence that targets random victims.
Reports of the attacks have come from around the country including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Chicago. In St Louis, an elderly immigrant from Vietnam died in an attack last spring.
The rules are as simple as they are brutal. A group chooses a lead attacker, then seeks out a victim. Unlike typical gang violence or other street crime, the goal is not revenge, nor is it robbery. The victim is chosen at random, often someone unlikely to put up a fight. Many victims have been elderly. Most were alone.
The attacker charges and begins punching. If the victim goes down, the group usually scatters. If not, others join in, punching and kicking, often until the person is unconscious or badly hurt. Sometimes the attacks are captured on cellphone video that is posted on Web sites.
“These individuals have absolutely no respect for human life,” St Louis Mayor Francis Slay said.
Slay knows firsthand. He was on his way home from a theater the night of Oct. 21 when he saw perhaps a dozen young people casually crossing a street. He looked to the curb and saw Quain sprawled on the pavement.
Slay told his driver to pull over. They found Quain unconscious, blood pouring from his head and mouth.
Quain was hospitalized for two days with a broken jaw, a cracked skull and nasal cavity injuries. He still has headaches and memory problems, but was able to return to work earlier this month. Hundreds gathered last month for a fundraiser at the pizza restaurant where he works, but he still does not know how he’ll pay the medical bills.
“I remember ... waking up on the corner with the mayor standing next to me,” Quain said. “I tried to say: ‘Hi’ but my jaw was broken.”
It is not clear how long Knockout King has been around or how many attacks have occurred. The FBI does not track it separately. Slay said he has heard from several mayors about similar attacks, and criminologists agree versions of the game are going on in many places.
St Louis Police Chief Dan Isom said the city has had about 10 Knockout King attacks over the past 15 months.
Experts say it is a grab for attention.
“We know that juveniles do not think out consequences clearly,” said Beth Huebner, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St Louis. “They see something on YouTube and say: ‘I want to get that sort of attention, too.”
Scott Decker, a criminologist at Arizona State, said the attacks are a modern extension of gang-like behavior — instead of painting over another gang’s graffiti as a show of toughness, they beat someone up and post a video on social media sites.
Earlier this year in Chicago, a group of teens followed an elderly homeless man at a train station. One teen punched him in the face, knocking him out as the friends laughed and mocked the man. The video of the attack was posted on a hip-hop site, where it got about a quarter-of-a-million views within two days. The teen was not arrested because police couldn’t find the homeless man.
The crimes are not limited to big cities. In 2009, Adam Taylor entered a parking garage in Columbia, Missouri, where surveillance footage later showed a group of teens following him, then punching and kicking him as he lay on the ground. Taylor suffered bruising on the brain, whiplash and internal bleeding, but survived.
Another attack killed Vietnamese immigrant Hoang Nguyen.
The 72-year-old was returning with his wife to their apartment after walking to a grocery store in broad daylight one April morning.
They took a shortcut through an alley, where a group of young people charged them. Hoang was attacked as he stepped in front of his wife to protect her. The attack went on as he begged for mercy, she told police.
Hoang died of massive injuries. Elex Murphy, 18, was charged with first-degree murder and allegedly told police the attack was part of the Knockout King game. His attorney declined to comment.
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