FERNLEY, Nev. – It has been seven weeks since the Bonta family was traumatized by an apparent hate crime that changed their lives in all the wrong ways. Since the attack, their hardships have increased. They are without housing or transportation, and they spend their days waiting for justice and living in fear.
Johnny and Lisa Bonta said their family was targeted and attacked on Truckee Lane on May 24th by three young white men who called them “river monsters,” “niggers” and other profanities after they followed the Bontas from a local gas station and accosted them on the side of the road.
“We were beaten with baseball bats, a crowbar, knives and tools,” Lisa Bonta told ICTMN . “My husband suffered a broken nose and they tried to cut his hair and slit his throat after dropping him to his knees with a bat. My son-in-law sustained a crushed elbow and broken hand fighting them off. I was hit in the lower back with the bat and suffered severe bruising and a seizure. They also threatened to rape my daughter, Ali, if they ever see her in town.”
As they await justice, the Bontas are wondering why a thorough investigation was never conducted by the Lyons County’s Sheriff’s Office, especially since They say officers who responded did not allow the Bontas to give statements about what happened. Only the accused perpetrators, Jacob Cassell, Josh Janiszewski and a male juvenile whom the Bontas called “skinheads,” were allowed to give statements to the police at the scene.
“We asked the police why they wouldn’t give us forms to make a statement and they ignored us. We tried to tell our side, but they wouldn’t take our information. They told me they would meet us at the hospital but no one ever came,” said Ali Bonta, who has not yet been interviewed by the FBI or local police despite her repeated calls to law enforcement as a victim.
A criminal investigation by the FBI has been instigated and the U.S. Department of Justice has been notified, but so far no charges have been filed against anyone according to Fernley District Attorney Brian Hayden.
The Lyon County police report confirms that the officers who responded to the scene did not take statements from the Bonta family on May 24th.
It was not until June 30th – six weeks after the attack – that Johnny and Lisa Bonta were finally able to provide their side of the story to Lyon Country Sheriff’s investigators when the family and an FBI agent met with two Lyon Country investigators at FBI headquarters in Reno. However, their statements are not yet part of the official police report.
The Sheriff’s Office did provide witness statements for all of the three other men involved, but the Bonta family insists that when they asked to give written statements, they were ignored. There are many discrepancies in the accounts between the Bontas and the police report that are being reviewed.
Meanwhile, the family is struggling to get back on their feet after their car was impounded at the scene. Shane Murray, the Bontas’ son-in-law who was driving at the time of the attack, said he had pulled off the road near the Nevada Highway Patrol substation to call police and seek help after the three men continued to follow them and tried to run them off the road.
“We tried to avoid them and the video from the gas station will show that we drove away first because we didn’t want a confrontation,” said Murray. “Their story doesn’t make sense – there’s no way I would have put my family in danger by trying to start a fight when I had two women in the car. I also want to know why police allowed Jacob Cassell to take his car but towed and impounded our car.”
According to the police statement, an underage white male passenger in Jacob Cassell’s car corroborated the Bontas’ story that they left the gas station first. However, statements to police from Cassell and Janiszewski contradict that, claiming they left the station before the Bontas. The three men claim the Bontas chased them and slammed into the side of their car, but photos indicate no substantial damage to the bumper of the Bontas’ vehicle.
Johnny Bonta said he overhead an officer calling Jim Cassell, a former Lyon County Sheriff, to “come get his boy and his car.” The elder Cassell soon arrived and towed the car away, while the Sheriff’s Office called a tow truck to haul the Bontas’ car away.
“We looked for our car for two weeks and called the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office repeatedly to find out where they had it towed,” said Lisa Bonta. “They wouldn’t tell us anything. We finally found it in a small fenced yard that doesn’t even advertise itself as a towing yard. We were told the towing and storage fees are about $700 to get it out. We don’t have the money.”
The Bontas were already struggling as a family with Lisa’s medical condition that requires her to get blood transfusions every six months to stay alive. A botched surgery several years ago resulted in Lisa’s body not being able to produce red blood cells anymore and she can only survive with ongoing blood transfusions.
“I had just had a series of blood transfusions and I am the last person who would go around attacking anybody. So their story that we somehow decided to randomly attack three white men makes no sense at all. Why would we?” she asked.
In the meantime, there has been an outpouring of support for the family. A group of people set up a bank account at US Bank in Reno, Nevada. The account number for donations to the Bonta Family is #153754887328.
Since the Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating, two more individuals have come forward to report that they too were attacked in Fernley with no response from the local police. Their stories have not been confirmed, and ICTMN is investigating.