The 2005 UNC graduate accused of driving a Jeep SUV through an area near the Pit just before noon on March 3, striking nine people, has sent a letter to The News & Observer of Raleigh saying that he was prepared to spend the rest of his life in jail. “If Allah wills, I will plead guilty to all 18 charges currently against me and I expect a life term in prison,” the newspaper quoted Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar as writing.
Taheri-azar, 22, is listed in alumni records as having earned degrees in psychology and philosophy last year. He faces nine counts of attempted first-degree murder and nine counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury with intent to kill. After striking the people, he then drove away, according to police, and called 911 and surrendered to police near University Mall, about two miles from the campus.
Taheri-azar is being held in Central Prison in Raleigh under a $5.5 million bond. A probable cause hearing has been set for March 24.
In his 911 call, Taheri-azar said his actions were meant “to punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world.”
UNC Director of Public Safety Derek Poarch said that he believed Taheri-azar acted to “avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world” and that Taheri-azar appears to have acted alone.
“There is no indication whatsoever that he acted in concert with anyone,” Poarch said.
Of the nine people struck, three declined treatment on the scene and six were taken to UNC Hospitals. All were treated and released the same day. It was not known immediately how many of the injured were students. The area where the incident took place, between the Pit and Lenoir Dining Hall, is a popular student gathering place and usually is crowded at midday.
According to The Associated Press, Taheri-azar, a native of Iran, “allegedly made statements that he acted to avenge the American treatment of Muslims,” FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko said.
A witness said Taheri-azar approached the Pit area from the west, apparently struck some people between the Pit and Lenoir, turned the corner at Lenoir and accelerated into a crowd on the dining hall’s east side, striking others in the area between Lenoir and Davis Library.
“I had just left the tables right there at the front of Lenoir, had been talking to friends,” said Matthew Bowles, a junior from Greensboro. “I had to go to class. I was walking through that walkway between Davis and Lenoir. I was right in the middle of that walkway.
“I saw him hit at least one person. At that point I was so confused. I saw people between me and him start running toward a brick planter – I ran over there to jump up out of the way.”
Bowles said the driver then turned onto Emerson Drive, which runs to the east of Hamilton and Caldwell Halls, and drove north, the wrong way on one-way Emerson. Bowles said that he got part of the license plate number and that the driver was wearing a black business-style suit.
After striking the people, the driver drove away, according to police. Taheri-azar then called 911 and surrendered near University Mall, about two miles from the UNC campus.
Carrboro police later evacuated the University Commons apartment where Taheri-azar lived, acting on information from the suspect, according to The N&O. The paper quoted Carrboro police Capt. Joel Booker as saying, “He made comments and said things regarding where he lives and things he may have that put us in concern for safety.”
Agents of the FBI and local bomb squads were called to the apartments. Residents of the apartments were allowed back in Friday night. According to The N&O, Booker said, “At this point we do not feel there is any more concern for public safety. No bomb, nothing like that.”
The paper reported that the University’s Muslim Students Association said he was not a member of the organization.
The paper also reported that the vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee Laredo, had an Enterprise Rental Car sticker on its bumper.
In an e-mail message to the University community, Chancellor James Moeser said student affairs staff and counselors were providing support to students who witnessed the incident. He encouraged students, faculty or staff who believed they needed assistance to seek counseling in the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
The initial report of the incident came in to campus police at 11:53 a.m. UNC Hospitals reported that none of the injuries was serious.