Police arrest 13-year-olds for setting 89-year-old woman on fire in Bensonhurst

Cops arrested two 13-year-olds for a July attack on an 89-year-old Asian woman in Bensonhurst.
NYPD Crime Stoppers

Cops have cuffed two 13-year-old boys for allegedly slapping an 89-year-old woman in Bensonhurst and setting her on fire in a July attack that outraged residents across the city, police said.

Police arrested one of the suspects on Sept. 4 and the other on Sept. 8. Both were charged with assault in the third degree, a Class A misdemeanor. 

Cops also apprehended a 12-year-old boy who was later released, according to police records.

The arrests come nearly two months after the defendants allegedly attacked the 89-year-old Asian woman on 77th Street and 16th Avenue, slapping her in the face and setting the back of her shirt on fire, according to police. The woman was able to extinguish the flames by putting her hair up and rubbing her back against a wall, she told ABC7. The attackers, whom she had never seen, ran away without saying a word to her, the victim said.

Police did not classify the attack a hate crime because of a lack of evidence regarding the attackers’ motives, since the assailants did not say racial slurs or exhibit any other obvious signs of anti-Asian prejudice, authorities said.

But locals charged that the randomness of the attack and the assailants’ choice to obscure their faces suggest the assault was a racially-motivated — especially after an uptick in crimes against Asian-Americans since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“[Police] said it wasn’t a hate crime because there were no racial slurs that were said,” said William Lex Ham, a Queens-based actor. “The woman doesn’t even speak English, so how could she know? This was an unprovoked attack.”

Lex Ham and Chinese-American rapper China Mac led a large march through Bensonhurst two weeks following the assault, where hundreds of protesters gathered to show their support for the elderly woman and urge police to investigate the attack as a hate crime. 

Protesters marched through Bensonhurst on Aug. 1 for the #TheyCantBurnUsAll march against a possibly racially-motivated attack on an 89-year-old Asian woman on July 14.Cameron Blumberg

“I said to myself, ‘This is too close to home, and enough is enough, and I have to do something about this,’” China Mac, a Brooklyn-born rapper, told Brooklyn Paper. “We have to go into Brooklyn and take a stance and make people uncomfortable.”

Two weeks after the march, the Police Department created the Asian Hate Crime Task Force, staffed with 24 Asian officers who speak one language other than English. The force aims to better communicate with Asian-Americans who are hesitant to speak to police because of cultural or language barriers, said Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison.

A spokeswoman for the NYPD did not elaborate on how investigators located and apprehended the young suspects, but said that the new task force likely played a role in their arrests.  

The defendants will be tried in Family Court, a spokesman from New York Court Administration said. Neither has been charged with a hate crime.