People start new lives for all kinds of reasons, leave all sorts of things behind. But when Charles Mozdir vanished in 2012, he left behind the kind of trouble in sunny Coronado, Calif., that people don’t forget.
Two of Mozdir’s best friends — who said they’d trusted him enough to help look after their son — had accused him of molesting their 7-year-old boy. Mozdir was arrested and posted bail. Then he skipped town before his arraignment.
For two years, Mozdir couldn’t be found.
On Monday afternoon, the mystery came to a bloody end. Two U.S. marshals and a New York Police Department detective walked into a smoking-paraphernalia shop in Manhattan to check out a tip, officials said. They found Mozdir working there.
A close-quarters gun battle broke out in the cramped West Village smoke shop. Mozdir, surrounded by the store’s hookahs and water pipes, used a .32-caliber revolver to shoot the detective and two marshals, officials said.
The law enforcement officers, who were working together as part of a regional fugitive task force, did not suffer life-threatening injuries, officials said. The 45-year-old veteran New York detective took a bullet to the gut, as well as a round that was stopped by a bulletproof vest, possibly saving his life. One marshal was hit in the elbow, the other in the buttocks. The three were hospitalized in stable condition and were reportedly in good spirits when officials visited them.
Mozdir, 32, was dead.
The end came after the John Walsh CNN program about fugitives, “The Hunt,” featured Mozdir’s case on July 20 and again Sunday evening.
After the shows aired, “A tip that said he was spotted in NY came on Saturday,” a spokeswoman for the show, Karen Reynolds, told the Los Angeles Times in an email, referring to the show’s tip line. “After the Sunday re-air, another tip came in that gave more info, leading authorities to Mozdir.”
New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton wouldn’t confirm whether a tip had led officers to Mozdir. Nor would he say whether Mozdir opened fire first, telling reporters the investigation was just beginning. But, Bratton added, “It is quite clear that the injuries sustained by our officers were caused by the suspect.”
Bratton said he didn’t know how long Mozdir, who had apparently changed his appearance, had been hiding in New York.
Officials had lost Mozdir’s trail in Georgia. They found his car hidden in a field, reportedly stripped of its license plates, five days after he missed his arraignment in Coronado on June 15, 2012.
That was the same month he’d been accused of fondling his friends’ child.
The boy had fallen ill with a fever while his father was away. The father called his wife, who was also caring for a newborn daughter, suggesting she call Mozdir — their wedding photographer — to help her look after the boy, CNN reported.
The parents told CNN that Mozdir was keeping an eye on the feverish child when the boy was lying in bed alongside his mother, who had fallen asleep — which is when, the parents said, Mozdir molested the boy.
“Even though [the boy’s mother] was in the same bed — not only in the same house, but the same room, the same king-sized bed — he pulled back the sheets and proceeded to play with our son’s private parts,” the boy’s father told CNN. “He [Mozdir] tried to explain to our son that it was normal what he was doing to him, and that his parents were going to be upset with him if he told them.”
The boy told his parents, who called police.
(The program did not reveal the names of the parents or the boy. The Times does not identify victims of sex crimes.)
After the 280-pound Mozdir went on the run, officials warned that he had family in San Diego, Mexico and Texas, and could be victimizing more children.
A Coronado Police Department spokeswoman told The Times that Mozdir also had been implicated in a child abuse case in 1998, but she declined to release more details, saying he had not been charged in that incident.
Mozdir had a handgun registered under his name and, officials said, had made threats to kill himself and threatened the victim’s family. They thought he might be with a black Labrador named Lucky and that he had the ability to “live off the land.”
Instead, he had apparently been living in the heart of America’s biggest city. When officials searched his body, they said they found 20 rounds of ammunition in his pocket, raising the possibility that Mozdir had been prepared for such a confrontation.
“These two marshals and the NYPD detective exhibited extraordinary bravery,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters. “They had to deal with an incredibly difficult situation, [make] split-second decisions.... We all feel such gratitude, such appreciation for their bravery.”
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
9:30 p.m.: The story was updated throughout with new information and details.
This post was originally published at 12:18 p.m.