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News & Observer | newsobserver.com | Suspect says he meant to kill

Published: Mar 07, 2006 12:00 AM
Modified: Mar 08, 2006 10:57 AM

Suspect says he meant to kill

The man accused of injuring 9 at UNC-CH is calm in court, says he'll represent himself

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CORRECTION

A story Tuesday on Page 1B about Mohammed Taheri-azar's first court appearance gave the wrong first name for UNC-Chapel Hill senior Dan Van Atta. Taheri-azar is charged in the injuries Friday of nine people on the campus.

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Update: Authorities have released the 911 call by Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar. Click the play button to hear the call (Flash player required):


CHAPEL HILL -- The UNC-Chapel Hill graduate charged with injuring nine people when he drove an SUV down a crowded campus walkway politely told a judge Monday he plans to represent himself, with the help of Allah.

Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, 22, was taken into Orange County District Court chained and in an orange jumpsuit and flanked by sheriff's deputies. Calm and with a constant closed-lip smile, he answered Judge Pat DeVine's questions of whether he understood the day's proceedings with "Yes, Ma'am"s.

"I'm thankful you're here to give me this trial and to learn more about the will of Allah," he told the judge in court.

District Attorney Jim Woodall read off each of the 18 charges, naming the nine people hit by the rented 2006 Jeep Cherokee on Friday. Six of them were treated for minor injuries at UNC Hospitals, and three refused treatment, according to university officials.

When asked by reporters outside the courthouse whether he intended to kill his targets, Taheri-azar said, "Yes."

A U.S. citizen born in Iran, Taheri-azar faces charges of attempted first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury for each of the nine people hit. DeVine kept bail at $5.5 million and asked the public defender's office to work with Taheri-azar until the court felt comfortable that he was competent enough to represent himself.

Taheri-azar will stay at Raleigh's Central Prison for safekeeping, DeVine said, after court officials determined he was unstable and a danger to himself and others. Court documents said Taheri-azar told a UNC-CH police detective that "people all over the world are being killed in war and now it is the people in the United States['] turn to be killed." Police say he also told them he intended to kill people when he drove into The Pit, a campus gathering spot.

Taheri-azar grew up in the Charlotte area, attending public school for 13 years until he graduated from South Mecklenburg High School in 2001.

UNC-CH senior Dave Van Atta, who shared a dormitory suite his freshman year with Taheri-azar, described him as a serious student, a hospital volunteer and a Muslim who became deeply committed to his religion relatively recently.

The two met up again for lunch in Durham last spring and talked about religion for two hours after Van Atta expressed his own atheism. "He was pretty devout," Van Atta recalled.

"It was as if he had just found religion," Van Atta said. Taheri-azar had studied the Quran, the Muslim holy book, and knew it well. "He was really at peace with himself when I talked with him last."

Taheri-azar graduated in December with a double major in psychology and philosophy and had recently started working at Jimmy John's, a Franklin Street sub shop.

Recording of 911 call

On Monday, UNC-CH released a recording of the 911 call Taheri-azar made after he left campus Friday.

"I just hit several people with a vehicle," he told the dispatcher. "I don't have any weapons or anything on me; you can come and arrest me now."

Taheri-azar said he left the Jeep running but didn't want to get back in because he didn't want police to think he was trying to run away.

In his call, Taheri-azar said he left an explanation for his actions in a one-page letter on his bed.

"Really, it's to punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world," he told the dispatcher.

After his arrest, police evacuated Taheri-azar's Carrboro apartment building before searching it with the State Bureau of Investigation's bomb squad, but no explosives were found.

Inside the unlocked and empty apartment Saturday, a GoArmy packet with enlistment information lay on the bed in a front bedroom thought to be Taheri-azar's. A packet, "Questionnaire for National Security Positions," had been marked with a highlighter and included questions such as, "What is your nationality?"

A blank photocopy of a "Reference Form" for a handgun permit with the Orange County Sheriff's Office was in the trash.

Among the books lined up against the wall on the floor were the Quran, books by Nelson Mandela and Cornel West and "Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror."

Staff writer Jessica Rocha can be reached at 932-2008 or jrocha@newsobserver.com.

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