An American soldier on leave for Christmas was attacked by a gang in Philadelphia.
Austin Freni, 19, had just arrived home from Georgia, where he is stationed at Fort Benning, so he could spend the holidays with his widowed mother, reports the Daily Mail.
His homecoming, however, took a tragic turn on New Year’s Day while attending Philadelphia’s annual Mummers Parade, one of the oldest folk festivals in the country.
At the parade, a gang of 15 to 20 men attacked Freni, allegedly because of his Army jacket, his mother, Lori, told WTXF.
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Freni, who was due to serve in the Middle East in 2017, suffered severe facial injuries in the attack, which landed him in the hospital.
The incident, they said, began innocently enough, when he was walking with his mother and girlfriend in downtown Philadelphia after the parade. But then a group of men reportedly made “derogatory” comments about his Army jacket.
According to his mother, one of the men then hit him, and then the others joined in. “Me and his girlfriend tried pulling them off and they hit us,” she explained. “We got hit in the face. She got thrown in the street.”
Freni is now in Jefferson University Hospital, suffering from a broken jaw and facing a lengthy recovery.
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“He's got to get plates put in his jaw and his mouth will be wired shut for the next eight weeks,” said his mother. “He's such a good kid, he did not deserve this.”
Lori Freni lost her job following the death of her husband two years earlier, and was going to sell her possessions to afford her son’s trip home for Christmas.
However, after setting up a GoFundMe page as a last resort, a stranger named Jennifer Richardson saw the page and covered Freni’s entire expenses for his trip home. She reportedly was motivated by her own experiences with her brother, who is in the Marines.