A U.S. Army soldier's jaw was broken during an assault in South Philadelphia on New Year's Day that began when he and his mother confronted a group of men who had made a derogatory comment about the Army, police said Friday.
Pvt. Austin Freni, 19, was on his cellphone walking with three others near Third Street and Oregon Avenue shortly after 11 p.m., trying to get a hotel room, when he mentioned to the hotel operator that he was in the Army, said his mother, Lori Freni.
A group of 11 men, ages 18 to 20, passed by, one of whom "made a derogatory comment about the Army in general" after hearing Freni's comment, police said in a news release.
According to Lori Freni, 39, a man in the group said: " 'Oh, tough guy, you're in the Army? The Army is a bunch of p---ies.' "
Freni and his mother, Lori Freni of Atco, N.J., confronted the man, which "led to an angry verbal exchange," police said. The man punched Austin Freni in the face, and he "suffered a broken jaw" as a result and was knocked to the ground, police said.
According to authorities, Lori Freni as well as Austin Freni's 19-year-old girlfriend told police that the other men then attacked them.
Lori Freni said that after the man threw the punch, her son fought back until four men jumped him while the others stood by, including one who videotaped the alleged assault.
Lori Freni said that she, her son's girlfriend, and her 15-year-old son were injured trying to pull the men off Austin Freni as they "were screaming derogatory comments about the Army the whole time."
She said a group of people across the street ran over and started yelling at the men, who then ran off.
Police have not been able to locate surveillance video.
Doctors extracted two of Austin Freni's teeth and installed metal plates to hold his jaw together, but he is unable to speak. Police said they have communicated with him through writing.
Lori Freni said her son soon will return to Fort Benning, Ga., where he will continue to receive medical treatment.