Irvine Police Department: Man abducted, attempted sexually assaulted woman in retaliation for anti-Asian hate crimes

A man was arrested after attacking a woman in her car outside her Irvine apartment building, holding her hostage and attempting to sexually assault her in retaliation for recent hate crimes against Asian Americans, police said Friday.

Michael Sangbong Rhee, 37, of Lake Forest, targeted a woman sitting in her car in front of her apartment in the Harvard Avenue and Coronado area around 1:30 p.m. Thursday, police said in a press release.

The victim looked up from the open driver’s door and saw Rhee standing there who, in their opinion, was holding a pistol, the investigators said.

Rhee then allegedly told her that she had to get in the back of her car if she wanted to live.

The woman offered to hand over her wallet and cash, but police said Rhee replied they would “do that later” before shoving her into the back seat.

Rhee is accused of sexual fear against the woman when she fought to escape out of fear for her life and safety.

The victim was able to tell a nearby maintenance worker that Rhee was armed and order Rhee to get out of her car and run through the apartment complex to escape in his vehicle, police said.

Security cameras caught Rhee’s license plate as he left, and police were able to track the information on his Lake Forest home, officials said.

The officers found him there and took him into custody Thursday evening. A search of his home and vehicle also revealed several items that linked him to the attack, including a BB gun that investigators say was similar to the one described by the victim.

Rhee was booked on $ 1 million bail on suspicion of kidnapping with the intention of sexual assault. Inmate records showed he remained in custody Friday night.

The woman he attacked was Asian herself, but detectives say they believe he targeted her because he believed she was white, “based on the entirety of Rhee’s investigation and testimony.”

Police say they will urge Orange County prosecutors to bring hate crimes charges against Rhee, as the attack was in retaliation for recent hate incidents against Asian Americans.

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