Candlelight vigils are being held in a quaint Massachusetts community after a beloved Black father was killed in a racially-motivated hit-and-run attack, WBUR reported.
Dean Kapsalis got into a dispute with Henry Tapia while the two were driving on a small road in Belmont, Massachusetts, on Jan. 19, according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac.
Witnesses said around 4 p.m. the two got out of their cars and were arguing but appeared to end the argument and head back to their vehicles when Kapsalis allegedly yelled the n-word at Tapia.
“What did you call me? You want to try and call me that again?” the 34-year-old said, according to the police report.
Tapia got out of his car again but the 54-year-old started his red Dodge Dakota pickup truck and struck the father of three, running him over and dragging him a short distance.
Tapia was suffering from life-threatening injuries and allegedly told those trying to help him, “I can’t breathe, I'm going to die.”
First responders spent 17 minutes trying to save him at the scene before transporting him to Massachusetts General Hospital where he later died.
Kapsalis turned himself in to police about 30 minutes later and has since been charged with civil rights violation causing injury, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, and leaving the scene of a crash after causing personal injury, according to The Boston Globe.
The newspaper reported that Kapsalis has a long criminal record, with 17 citations for speeding, seven surcharge crashes and six different license suspensions. In 2014, he was convicted of assault and battery but was given a one-year suspended sentence, meaning he never actually spent time in prison.
“We are reminded that incidents like this, that are allegedly born of hateful speech, have a lasting impact on families, friends and our neighbors here in this community. We cannot and will not tolerate behavior that is rooted in racial bias and meant to discriminate, because it is not only the victims and their families who suffer, it is all of us," Ryan told reporters during a press conference.
— DA Marian Ryan (@DAMarianRyan) January 20, 2021
“In this incident, the allegation is the defendant intentionally acted to strike the victim with his vehicle following a verbal exchange that included those racial slurs that were meant to intimidate and to threaten Mr. Tapia,” Ryan added.
After his hearing Wednesday, a judge ordered Kapsalis be held without bail because he was a danger to the community and Ryan said additional charges may be added after an investigation is done.
“Anybody who does that has the intention to kill. And that’s what he did. I think about what happened and I say, ‘Why? Why? Why? Why couldn’t he just leave? In my eyes, that is a bad person,” Tapia's mother, Miosotis Morel, told The Boston Globe in an interview.
"My son, he was doing really good. He has so many beautiful plans… He was working day and night. He was so proud. He was always talking about his co-workers and how good they were. He was grateful for his job and the opportunity to work hard,” she added, noting that her last words to him were about how much she loved him.
Kapsalis's next court date is on Monday, according to WHDH.
A vigil is being held in Belmont for Henry Tapia, a black man who died Tuesday after witnesses say a white man hurled racial slurs and ran Tapia over with his truck after the two had a verbal road rage altercation. There are signs that read “I miss my dad” and “say his name” pic.twitter.com/tbp6cC2a9h
— Quincy J. Walters (@quincyjwalters) January 21, 2021
The news outlet reported that hundreds of people came out Thursday to honor Tapia, who was a beloved father and widely adored for his active role in local gaming communities.
A GoFundMe has been started to help support his children and partner as they mourn. The goal was originally to raise about $10,000 but it has brought in over $140,000.
"For all who knew Henny, despite his moniker, he was nothing short of AMAZING. He was truly a GOOD guy. Henny was a gentle giant, a loyal friend, with a big unforgettable smile, and an even bigger heart. He was monumental in laying the foundation for our Tekken family and is responsible for bringing us immeasurable memories that will last a lifetime," Tapia's friend Danny Garcia wrote on the GoFundMe page.
"As a friend, I've watched Henny grow into such a stellar individual! He tried hard every day to be the best role model for his children. He had aspirations of buying his first home with his partner Courtney, and worked diligently towards this goal," he added.
At the candlelight vigil, Tapia's children held signs saying, "I miss my Dad! Mommy won't let me forget you!" according to WBUR.
Sarah Bilodeau, a friend of Tapia, said the killing was shocking and tragic to the community because "he was a block from his own home when this happened."
His brother criticized the press coverage of his death noting that if it were a police shooting, it would have gotten more national coverage.
His partner, Courtney Morton, was inconsolable at the vigil, noting that the two were planning their life together with their children before his death.
"I will die being the love of his life. And I will fight for him because he couldn't continue to fight from all the damage done," she said. "He's my rock and I'm going to show him that I'm going to be the soldier he wanted me to be."