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An investigation into a string of purported hate crimes, which included "Die Fag" being carved into the arm of a gay Delta man, took a detour on Tuesday after police said the man admitted to harming himself.
Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker said attorneys for Richard "Rick" Jones made the admission to his office last week.
"Our client is responsible for all of the incidents and that would include the cutting of his own skin," Jones' attorney, Paul Burke, confirmed to The Tribune on Tuesday.
But Burke said characterizing Jones' actions as a hoax would be inaccurate. Jones is member of family that loves him, but is struggling with the acceptance of his sexual orientation, he said.
"A hoax implies a genuine intent to deceive," Burke said. "From what I understand of this situation, this was a cry for help and it was a genuine cry for help."
Jones, 21, had claimed three separate attacks in April and June of physical violence, burglary and vandalism on himself, his family's home and the pizzeria he runs with his siblings.
Early news reports about the violence and homophobic slurs and threats sparked an international media firestorm and drew hundreds to tiny Delta, 135 miles south of Salt Lake City, to aid the Jones family.
The admission that Jones perpetrated the crimes does not end the police investigation, Dekker said, but changes its focus. Authorities are now considering whether Jones should face any criminal charges, Dekker said.
Burke hopes authorities won't do that, but said county and state officials from the sheriff and the county attorney to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox had handled the situation with compassion and concern for the man's well-being.
"It's a model for how this should be done when you have a young man who's crying for help," Burke said.
Also last week, Burke said, he and attorney Brett Tolman reached out to organizers of a GoFundMe.com site that had raised nearly $12,000 to pay for Jones' medical expenses and arranged to have all of the donations returned.
"Rick and his family are grateful for the expressions of support, but cannot accept this generosity. All donations are being returned to the donors," the post reads. "The family has no further comment at this time."
Jones first reported an attack to police on April 25, telling police that he was jumped after taking out the trash at Grand Central Station pizzeria. In that incident, Jones told police he was rendered unconscious and that the words "Die Fag" were carved into his arms with a sharp object.
Police were also called on April 30, after the same words were spray-painted on the side of the Jones family home and again on June 10 after a rock and a Molotov cocktail were thrown through a window, starting a small fire. The restaurant was also reportedly burglarized and vandalized with the spray-painted messages "You'll Die" and "Burn Fag."
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, expressed concern for Jones on Tuesday and said LGBT youth in rural communities face many challenges, including isolation and loneliness.
"The mental health of these youth depends on a loving network of family, neighbors and friends," he said. "Without these enduring ties, kids like Rick become increasingly vulnerable."
Williams, who himself had traveled to Delta to meet with Jones in early June, said his hope is that support for Jones and his family will continue.