TACOMA, Wash. - At first glance, nothing looks wrong with Justin Winter, a tattoo artist in Tacoma. But when you hear his voice project out from his bushy beard, you can sense it is hard for him to talk about what happened one week ago, hard in a couple of ways.
The most obvious difficulty comes from having his mouth wired shut. But, perhaps even more painful is the reason why he's in this situation.
"Another human life means nothing to these kids," Winter says of what he calls a "pack" of young people who attacked him. "That's what disturbs me most about this."
There's plenty that's disturbing. It started about 10 days ago, when Winter and his fiancée Mishele Dupree were walking through a parking lot on the corner of MLK and South 19th in the Hilltop neighborhood.
A teenaged girl asked if they would give her a cigarette. They asked how old she was, she said 17, and they said no because they thought she was even younger than that. Instantly, she started cussing at them. They kept walking.
Three days later, they walked through the same parking lot. This time, the girl was hanging out there with a group of 15-20 people (very near signs that read "No loitering -- enforced by Tacoma Police."). The couple says she started yelling at them about the cigarette. Then, she gestured for the group of young people to go get them.
"They started to approach us and encircle us and push us back into the alleyway," said Winter.
He said he and Dupree had their "hands up, saying peace, 'We have no problems with you.'" The effort at diplomacy fell flat. Dupree got punched in the side of the face. Even a week later, it's still yellow and bruised. But the worst was saved for Winter. He was stomped repeatedly. He could feel his jaw breaking.
"The only thing I could think of was please don't let us die. I don't want to die," said Dupree. They survived, but Justin's jaw barely did. He says he has four plates screwed into his mouth. The jaw was shattered in three places. It has to be wired shut at least one month. His medical bills stand at about $20,000, and he needs two more surgeries. As a self-employed tattoo artist, he does not have medical insurance.
He and Dupree say their biggest concern is that these kids will do something like this again. Winter believes the kids have grown up in a culture of violence and a lack of proper parenting. The night of the attack, they wouldn't listen to his appeals for peace.
But he has thought about what he would say to them if they would listen, "You need to replace that coldness with warmth and love or you're not going to succeed and your life is going to be a cycle of misery," Winter said.
Dupree and Winter say they believe the same group of kids -- including the girl who wanted the cigarette in the first place -- often hangs out at this same parking lot. They've told police, but no arrests have been made.
KIRO 7 asked TPD why that is. They say the case is under active investigation. We'll post any updates as they come.