By Michael Shain
The initial police report came over as an assault outside a high-rise apartment building on 83rd Avenue, about a block from the Queens Criminal courthouse in Kew Gardens. The doorman had found a young man lying face up and lifeless on the plaza outside the lobby window.
When the first officers arrived at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, they realized that the doorman had been mistaken. The sound of a body hitting the concrete makes the same noise as a gunshot, one resident said afterward.
It took a few hours to identify the victim, 30-year-old Tahmeed Ahmad of East Elmhurst. Ahmad graduated from the elite Stuyvesant High School in 2003 with honors in chemistry, earned a letter in football and went to City College on a scholarship. He also had been on the FBI’s terrorist watch list for more than a decade.
In October 2007, Ahmad single-handedly tried to attack Homestead Air Reserve Base outside Miami. He reportedly yelled “Death to America” as he rushed the gates of the base, armed with two butcher knives he had just bought at a Walmart and two bottles of vodka he intended to use as Molotov cocktails.
After he was arrested, Ahmad told the FBI that he was trying to commit “suicide by cop,” according to an affidavit written by the FBI agent who interrogated him.
Born in Kuwait, Ahmad was a naturalized U.S. citizen — and he had been in and out of mental care facilities for several years. He was charged with assaulting a federal officer, which carries a 20-year prison term. But Ahmad was never convicted.
“The assistant U.S. attornery assigned to the case and the judge all agreed from the facts of the case that he was mentally ill,” said his former lawyer, William Tunkey. “There weren’t even any arguments presented.”
The judge declared Ahmad mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered him committed to a federal psychiatric hospital in Butner, N.C., next to the prison hospital where Wall Street scammer Bernard Maddof is serving a 150-year sentence.
Eventually, Ahmad was released in late 2010 under strict parole conditions. A math teacher at Miami Central High School when he was arrested, Ahmad was barred from working with children, traveling without the consent of his parole officer and drinking or taking drugs — which, as a practicing Muslim, he never did anyway, he told the court.
Technically, his case is still open.
Ahmad moved back to East Elmhurst with his mother to a two-story rowhouse just off Northern Boulevard, reconnected with friends from Stuyvesant and got to know the young players on the school’s football team — who call themselves Peglegs — according to his Facebook page. As his favorite slogan, he listed a line from John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach of UCLA famed for his inspirational pep talks: “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”
Then in September, Ahmad surfaced again — writing to the Florida judge who had presided over his case, Federico Moreno. He asked that the terms of his release be modified — or better yet, terminated.
“I have a come a long way in growing as a person and demonstrating maturity,” he wrote. “I would like to return to my passion, coaching football.”
Judge Moreno, who in the intervening years had become chief judge of the Southern Florida district, took three months to make a decision. He turned down the request.
“In this day and age, that wasn’t going to happen,” Tunkey said. Ahmad got the bad news Jan. 15, the lawyer said.
Three days later, the young man went online and booked a room on Airbnb, the Internet service that connects people who want to rent rooms in their apartment to tourists. He rented a room, according to police, in a 32nd-floor apartment in building called the Court Plaza in Kew Gardens. The ad (now pulled) said the room had a balcony. Shortly after checking in on Sunday afternoon, in the midst of a driving rain storm, police say he leapt.
“I have the very strong feeling Tahmeed felt he was never going to get away from what happened in Florida,” Tunkey said. “His life became impossible and there was no escape.”