Omeed Popal is just a sad and crazy man, and his rampage in San Francisco is just the insane expression of his frustration and isolation.
The arguments began over the weekend. Omeed Popal begged his father for permission to return to Afghanistan to be with his new bride.
The tension heightened Tuesday morning when his mother, like his father, refused to let him go.
By around noon, police say, Popal -- who has a history of mental problems -- was so enraged he jumped in his family's black sports utility vehicle and began a rampage. He plowed through pedestrians up and over sidewalks, police say, leaving one man dead in Fremont and 14 others injured in San Francisco.
This Mercury News story, as well as a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, both rely almost entirely on the comments of Popal's cousin Hamid Nekrawesh. It is possible he is spinning the event, but I think that's highly unlikely. The story is too sophisticated to be fake, unless Nekrawesh, an auto shop owner by day, doubles as a forensic psychologist by night. Some bits from the Mercury News:
"I didn't know he had these mental problems until last night," Nekrawesh said Wednesday. "They were keeping everything pretty much within themselves."
Popal is 29 years old, but Nekrawesh said he was under such strict control from his parents -- who believed they needed to protect him from America's "evil society" -- that Popal probably felt his arranged marriage was a ticket to freedom.
Before one jumps all over this Muslim family for teaching things like that, it should be recalled that there are native-born Americans who would say similar things. In this case, I don't even think the family's religion mattered: they were simply isolated, oppressive people by nature. I think if we look at the family histories of spree killers or rampage killers we'll find a similar profile. The variable isn't religion, but paranoid isolation.
"My personal feeling is that he has been away from all the other pleasures and growing up of life, and all of a sudden he got this pleasure of a woman out of nowhere and he fell in love and wanted to be with his wife," Nekrawesh said.
"All I know is that he wanted to go back and his family wouldn't let him," Nekrawesh said, giving one relative's version of a complicated tale that police are only starting to unravel.
I'm not sure there is any more to unravel, unless they find jihadi propaganda in Popal's possession.
Since Popal returned from his wedding two weeks ago, Nekrawesh said, he had been haunted by dreams that a man was dragging him to a graveyard to kill him.
I really want to know how that should be interpreted.
On Saturday or Sunday morning, after the intense argument with his father over returning to Afghanistan, Popal "ran away" to Los Angeles, Nekrawesh said.
"He came to his senses that he didn't have any money," Nekrawesh said, "so he called home and asked his dad to pick him up."
His father drove down with his sister, and the father put the siblings on a train back to Fremont on Monday while he conducted some business, Nekrawesh said....
On Tuesday morning, the argument with his mother began, Nekrawesh said. It continued in the car, as Popal's mother and sister came along for the ride when Popal dropped off his brother at San Jose State University. And it kept going as Popal headed to a job interview at a Fremont temporary-employment agency, Nekrawesh said.
Popal parked, then returned to the car, telling his mother the agency needed her signature for something. Mother and daughter got out of the car, Nekrawesh said, and that's when Popal jumped in and sped away....
At this point I imagine he felt a rush of freedom that quickly gave way to overwhelming frustration that he released with unrelenting, remorseless aggression against whatever targets he could find.
"He has been pretty much isolated from society most of his life," Nekrawesh, 43, said. "He was pretty much under full control of his parents, not having a whole lot of freedom of talking to people and making friends. I have tried to talk to his dad to allow him to grow up as a normal kid, just like anyone else's kid in the community. He thought he should keep him away from everybody."
This is what the husband did to Andrea Yates. Forced isolation is toxic when added to mental instability.
The cousin said he found out after the rampage, when the family gathered at a relative's house, that Popal had been hospitalized for mental problems two or three times over the summer.
"I asked his mother why didn't she tell us about his hospitalization," Nekrawesh said. "She said, 'I didn't want the bride's family to find out.' They wanted to keep it a secret."
How charming of them to lie to people thousands of miles away. That the family thought to avoid shame first rather than their son's health or the fairness of their actions to the girl's family says a lot about the family's moral character.
The San Francisco Chronicle piece covers much the same ground. Here's a few unique highlights:
Family members said Popal could be rational and calm. But he had also been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and had been hospitalized at least twice in recent months after suffering breakdowns, relatives said.
I wonder how accurate that definition is. Was Popal just emotionally disturbed because of his environment, or was there genuine reason to say his behavior was caused by an organic mental illness (which is what I understand schizophrenia to be)?
At 29, Popal still lived with his parents in Fremont. His mother was especially sheltering, seeing the world as filled with "evil people" and trying to keep Popal from being harmed, said his cousin, Hamid Nekrawesh.
"Since he was a little kid, they had been overly controlling of him," Nekrawesh said. "They tried to keep him away from evil situations, in their mind, and that had a negative effect on him. He just didn't have any friend or anyone to talk to except Mom and Dad."
Last spring, Popal was voluntary committed to Kaiser Medical Center in Fremont after a breakdown on brought by a dream of "the devil taking him to a graveyard and trying to kill him," Nekrawesh said.
The Mercury News said it was a "man" in the dream, not specifically the devil.
"He was supposed to be taking medication," Nekrawesh said. "From what I heard from his mom and dad, when he was in Afghanistan, he was perfectly fine. When he came back, all these problems occurred."
This doesn't surprise me at all. In Afghanistan, Popal was in the environment his parents tried to recreate, apparently, in their home. Or at least he was away from the environment they kept calling "evil". He was the center of attention. he was away from any pressures of working or fitting in. He was away from his more successful relatives and peers. And he finally had hope of achieving independence from his family. It must have seemed like paradise to him.
Then his family brought him back home to his personal hell.