Texas gunman’s mother: ‘He just had a normal American upbringing’
The two versions of Nadir Soofi are hard to reconcile.
There’s the small-business man who loved cars; the Texas-born son of a Catholic nurse and a Pakistani American engineer; the all-American kid with a privileged upbringing, who caused little trouble other than the traffic tickets he got in Utah, where he attended college, and in Phoenix after moving there in the mid-2000s.
Then there’s the Islamist gunman, clutching an assault rifle as he and a partner shot and wounded a Garland, Texas, security guard on Sunday, the one who lay dead and anonymous for hours in a parking lot a thousand miles from home as police searched his and his partner’s belongings for possible explosives.
Soofi, 34, and his partner, Elton Simpson, 30, were shot dead by police almost instantly outside a heavily guarded conference center filled with 200 people after the pair drove up with guns and began firing on a provocative contest featuring depictions of the prophet Muhammad.
The mystery now -- as investigators check whether the pair were inspired by Islamic State’s calls to violence against the West -- is how one Nadir Soofi became the other.
In death, Soofi is survived by a 9-year-old son, by his mother and father, and by a vast plain of questions facing those who loved him.
“He was a good parent,” Soofi’s mother, Sharon Soofi, 59, said in a phone interview Tuesday, still trying to puzzle together the elements that could have motivated her son’s turn to violence. “He loved spending time with his son. For him to do this sort of thing and leave him behind, you know, I still can’t figure it out. And never will, probably.”
Nadir Soofi was born in Dallas and spent the first couple of years of his life where he ultimately died, in the diverse suburb of Garland, population 234,566, according to his mother. The family then moved to Plano in northern Texas, and then to Alabama.
“He was outgoing, he was intelligent, he did well in school; he just had a normal American upbringing,” Sharon Soofi said. “He lived in nice neighborhoods. ... He really wasn’t denied anything. ... He even told me himself that he had a very good life that was provided for him by his parents.”
“He lived a real privileged life all his life,” Soofi’s father, Azam Soofi, an engineer, who has since remarried, told the Kansas City Star in a Tuesday interview at his home in Overland Park, Kansas. “He was a very humble, soft-spoken person. Never said no to me.”
Despite the support from his parents, accomplishment eluded Soofi.
Soofi was a pre-med student at the University of Utah from fall of 1998 to summer of 2003, according to a school spokeswoman, but he did not earn a degree.
That’s around the time when Soofi moved to Phoenix, according to his mother, where he launched a series of small businesses with financial backing from his father, including a dry-cleaning shop, a pizza joint and a cleaning company. They never seemed to last long.
Soofi had a son with his girlfriend in 2006, but the couple separated, according to Soofi’s mother and family court records.
Soofi’s former girlfriend ultimately took primary custody of the pair’s son, with Soofi paying child support and getting some visitation and holiday rights, according to court records. Soofi sometimes brought his son with him to Texas to visit with Sharon Soofi.
Sharon Soofi thinks the now-closed pizza parlor, Cleopatra Bistro Pizza, is where Soofi met his future accomplice, Simpson, who authorities say had a history of fantasizing about violent jihad in the Middle East.
Simpson was prosecuted in 2010 in federal court in Phoenix for lying to FBI agents about telling a previous roommate that he wanted to go to Somalia to engage in holy war.
“What I understand, this [Elton] Simpson, that’s how my son got involved with him -- he hired him to work in the pizza parlor,” Sharon Soofi said.
The pair attended the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, about two miles from the apartment officials said they moved in together in northwest Phoenix.
Simpson was gregarious and personable, said Usama Shami, president of the community center. Soofi was older and quieter, Shami said, and would sometimes come to the mosque with his son.
Soofi also grew more religious in the final years of his life. He had posted generic religious messages on Facebook since joining in 2010, but within a couple of years, he had grown a traditional Islamic beard and looked different enough that some family members were surprised by the change.
“Nadir hard to believe that’s you,” one cousin commented on a photo posted Aug. 8, 2013, that showed Soofi with a full beard, and wearing conservative traditional garb. Another friend wrote on Facebook: “Mashallah Nadir, I would never have recognized you had we crossed each other on the road.”
Soofi followed events in the Middle East and sometimes shared images that were critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and America’s support for Israel. During Israel’s 2014 bombardment of the Gaza Strip, Soofi posted, “May Allah turn the tides of this war and punish the Israeli oppressors, ameen, ameen, ameen!”
But none of his publicly available posts appeared to encourage threats or violence, beyond the abstract: “May Allah protect the oppressed and suffering, and bring justice to the oppressors and wrongdoers, ameen!” Soofi wrote in a status update in 2012.
His posts were also sometimes banal, including the several photos of a green motorcycle he uploaded in 2014, adding, “new ride!”
Soofi’s posts are in contrast to a Twitter account experts believe may have belonged to Simpson, “Shariah Is Light,” which regularly contacted Islamic State supporters and which was frequently shut down for sharing Islamic militant content.
Minutes before the shooting in Garland, that account tweeted a message with the hashtag #texasattack that said the user and “the bro with me” had pledged allegiance to “Amirul Mu’mineen,” a possible reference to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi.
“May Allah accept us as mujahideen,” the final message said.
Soofi’s participation in the attack baffled his mother, who said her last contact with him had been text messages to celebrate his son’s 9th birthday in April.
Soofi didn’t seem different, he didn’t seem depressed, he didn’t seem angry, and he certainly didn’t say anything about the Mohammad cartoon contest in Garland or anything about an attack, said Sharon Soofi.
“If he’d said anything, I would have gone there – I mean, I would have stepped in and done something about it,” Sharon Soofi said, adding that she didn’t know of her son retaining any connections to Garland after leaving the town as a young boy.
The idea of what she called a “ridiculous” Muhammad cartoon contest offended her, but she also felt sympathetic to the security guard who was wounded.
“He was just there doing his job, you know? That’s what he was supposed to do, and I’m just glad that there wasn’t anyone else killed,” Sharon Soofi said.
At one point in an interview Tuesday, Sharon Soofi gave a hollow chuckle of helplessness as she considered what would become of her grandson.
“You know? How he could leave him with a -- sort of -- you know -- in that kind of way --”
Sharon Soofi lost her words, until she settled on a description of how her grandson would remember his father’s final act: “Something that’s always going to haunt him.”
Pearce reported from Los Angeles and Duara from Phoenix. Brittny Mejia in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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