HERMITAGE — Like other teens, 14-year-old Landon Sechler frequently hangs out with high school friends. Since last Friday, however, he hesitates to leave home, after what appears to be a racially motivated attack Friday night at Shenango Valley Cinemas.
Landon and a few friends from Hickory High School went to see "Tenet" after 7 p.m. at the Hermitage theater. Midway through the movie, a man Landon described as "older" — Landon's mother, Erika Sechler, thinks that means someone in his 40s or 50s —walked over to the kids. He was upset and appeared to focus his anger on Landon, who is biracial – African American and white – and autistic.
Erika said the man hurled four-letter words and a racial slur at Landon, before grabbing Landon's phone, hitting him in the face with it, and throwing the phone across the theater. The man and a younger person then left the theater, leaving the stunned group of teens alone, Erika said.
Landon, an eighth grader who enjoys gym and history, said Friday's incident was his first confrontation of its kind. It was terrifying.
"It was very surprising and kind of traumatizing," Landon said.
Erika initially suspected from her son's demeanor – he was unresponsive and appeared somewhat upset – that something was wrong when she picked him up at the theater. Landon said nothing about the incident, however, until the following morning.
"He was emotional," Erika said. "I had tears rolling down my face."
She called Hermitage police, which sent two officers to meet her and Landon at the theater. The officers took a statement and reviewed surveillance images, but Hermitage police Chief Eric Jewell said cameras did not reveal the man's face.
Jewell also said Landon did not mention race during initial interviews with police. The ongoing investigation, which could lead to assault charges, will include follow-up interviews; a detective will review security cameras that could show other angles of the movie theater.
Although the man who attacked Landon entered Shenango Valley Cinemas through the main entrance, Jewell said he apparently exited through a side door.
Erika posted a video to Facebook, with her describing the incident, and said she planned to pursue charges if the attacker is identified. Since the incident, friends and family members have reached out to the Sechlers.
No one's child should be subject to such an assault, regardless of color, creed, or religion, Erika said. "I'd want to know why he singled out my son."
A basketball fan, especially of Los Angeles Lakers star Lebron James, Landon said he hopes to become a professional basketball player for the Lakers, both for the sport and L.A.'s beautiful climate. Since Friday's incident, he's avoiding the public and staying home.
"The one question I'd have is why," he said. " Why'd he go for me?"
Anyone with information regarding the suspect's identity should call Hermitage Detective John Miller at 724-983-6780 ext. 1660. Jewell also encouraged the suspect to reach out to police.
Attempts Tuesday to reach the management of Golden Star Theaters, the company that owns Shenango Valley Cinemas, were unsuccessful.
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