UPDATE: Officials, community look for answers after Tensas State Bank hostage takeover
ST. JOSEPH, La. (AP) — Fuaed Abdo Ahmed was angry and hearing voices, authorities said, when he wrote the letter detailing his plan to take employees hostage at a rural Louisiana bank.
He wrote that he believed his ex-girlfriend’s family had broken them up and were responsible for putting a device in his head, according to the letter found in a van parked near the bank. The family was among a list of people he believed had caused him problems, and he also wrote demands that included safe passage to another country.
What unfolded Tuesday afternoon was an hours-long standoff that left the gunman and one hostage dead of gunshot wounds and another hostage in critical condition. Despite his list of grievances, the 20-year-old gunman had no apparent history with the bank employees he took captive.
And while Ahmed may have been privately seething, he gave few outward signs of his violent aims. Several acquaintances, including the town’s mayor, said they saw no signs of trouble. His high school football coach and a teammate describe an amicable star running back with good grades.
About an hour before the standoff, St. Joseph Mayor Edward Brown said he exchanged pleasantries with Ahmed at a convenience store owned by the gunman’s family.
Brown described Ahmed as “just normal.”
“That’s why it’s so bizarre to me,” he said.
His former coach at Briarfield Academy in Lake Providence said Ahmed had 2,700 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns his senior year.
“It’s not like he ever exhibited aggressive behavior when playing football. He was a normal good kid. It’s not like he ever had any fits of rage. Ever,” said Ben Durham, his former coach.
But three or four months ago, Durham said, some paranoid tendencies emerged during a Facebook conversation. Durham said he asked if Ahmed kept up with some of his Briarfield teammates and was told no, because they had started to beat him up.
“I know they didn’t do that,” Durham said.
Two neighbors heard the sound of gunshots coming from near Ahmed’s house on Monday and Tuesday before the standoff, but didn’t think it was unusual enough to call police.
The standoff began around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday when authorities said Ahmed took two women and a man captive at Tensas State Bank branch in St. Joseph, which sits near Louisiana’s border with Mississippi.
At first he talked to authorities on a hostage’s cell phone, then switched to one of the bank’s phones. Louisiana State Police superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said the man grew increasingly erratic as negotiations went on, sometimes hanging up on police. One of his demands to authorities was that they get the device out of his head, Edmonson said.
Armed with a .380 semiautomatic handgun and an assault rifle, Ahmed kept the hostages in a small work room where the bank vault is, said Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones.
During negotiations, authorities were able to get Ahmed on the phone with a friend in Alaska, which was crucial in convincing him to release a female hostage. Jones said it’s not clear why he targeted the bank, which is across the street from the store owned by Ahmed’s family.
Eventually, Ahmed told negotiators he was going to kill the two remaining hostages. State police entered the building just before midnight Tuesday. That’s when Ahmed shot the two hostages and then police shot and killed him, Edmonson said.
Charla Ducote, spokeswoman for Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, La., said the wounded hostage, LaDean McDaniel, was in critical condition on Wednesday. Jones said she was on life support in the afternoon.
The slain hostage was identified by the sheriff as Jay Warbington.
The hostages were both shot with a handgun. Edmonson said Ahmed also had a duffel bag containing items he was going to use to torture the hostages.
“His intent was to inflict pain and kill these individuals,” Edmunson said.
Authorities say Ahmed didn’t use what was in the bag. State police didn’t immediately say what was in it.
Jones said Ahmed had recently traveled to California and Yemen, returning two or three weeks ago. Jones said at some point he’d been receiving treatment for mental issues.
Still, the gunman’s brother told the sheriff he hadn’t displayed any signs of violence recently.
Jones said the note listed a number of people who Ahmed thought contributed to his problems. Jones said Ahmed wrote that he didn’t want to be arrested or given mental health treatment. He wanted to leave the country.
Edmonson said Ahmed’s parents were from Yemen, but he was a U.S. citizen. The detailed list of grievances and demands gave no indication that he had a political or religious motive, Edmonson said.
On a Facebook page under Ahmed’s name, Ahmed describes himself as a native of Fresno, Calif. The page includes photos of him smiling and wearing a baseball cap backward, and with friends.
Ahmed discusses philosophy of life from the Tao Te Ching, a 6th century BC Chinese text, and is a fan of comedian Jerry Seinfield, rapper Eminem and Islam. He makes no specific references to political or religious extremism.
But recent posts show a darker side. In a post on Sunday, he displays a cartoon strip in which a gunman and negotiators discuss whether a hostage’s life is worth a sandwich.
Ahmed’s next-door neighbor, Nelda Bass, said she heard a single gunshot on Monday afternoon and saw Ahmed holding a rifle in his yard when she went outside to look around. He went inside when he saw her, and she didn’t call police at the time.
James and Angie Hayden live across the street from the one-story red brick house where Ahmed lived and cashed their checks at the store where he worked
“The one that did the shooting, we saw him weekly,” Angie Hayden said. “We cashed our checks there. A very nice boy. We wouldn’t have expected this.”
James Hayden said he heard a loud bang the morning of the standoff and went outside to look around. He said he saw Ahmed outside, but didn’t think much of it at the time.
A high school teammate, 18-year-old Neal Brown, said that Ahmed was outgoing, funny and popular with boys and girls at the private school. He said that Ahmed wasn’t much of a partier like other students because he spent long hours working at the family business in addition to playing football.
“He was just the most amazing person there was. He was just the funniest,” Brown said.
He added that Ahmed appeared to change after he graduated but didn’t elaborate.
Ahmed’s teammates voted him team captain his senior year, Durham said.
“I know the stigma about the South and how they don’t accept outsiders. But this kid, he had kind of the American dream of a high-school career,” he said.
“Something went wrong. He was an outstanding young man. That’s what, to me, makes this so tragic. He strayed so far. I’m just baffled.”