Profile: The Suspect
Jeremy Herb, STAFF WRITER
The Fremont man accused in Tuesday's hit-and-run rampage had a history of mental problems and ran away to Los Angeles three days earlier to escape his family, a relative said.
Omeed Aziz Popal, 29, was isolated from most people outside his extended family
and recently was admitted to multiple hospitals for mental problems, the relative said.
Popal's cousin, Hamid Nekrawesh, said Popal's parents kept him and his brothers and sisters from interacting with their peers, and that caused manyproblems for Popal.
"He never had any friends outside his house," Nekrawesh said. "He has been isolated from society. The poor kid has grown up helping his dad continuously."
When the Popal family booked their trip to Afghanistan recently for his arranged marriage, Popal's mother did all the planning and Popal kept quiet, said Hasmat Ansari, director of Pamir Travel.
"His mom was overprotective," Ansari said. "She did all the talking — everything. When he said something about the booking, the mom said, 'You don't know anything. Let me talk to this guy.'"
Popal went to Afghanistan with his mother and two siblings, Ansari said.
"He was a nice kid," Ansari said of Popal. "He was a normal guy."
After Popal returned from Afghanistan, he started arguing with his family, saying he did not want to live with them any more.
He ran away several times, Nekrawesh said, including last weekend to Los Angeles. The family reported him missing to Fremont police. But having arrived in Los Angeles, Popal called his father, Najib, and said he had no money or place to go, Nekrawesh said. Popal's father drove to Los Angeles with Popal's youngest sister and sent them on the train back to Fremont before driving back Tuesday.
Popal's mother told Nekrawesh Tuesday night that Popal had been hearing voices and dreaming of men dragging him to the graveyard and trying to kill him.
And police on Wednesday said Popal called them in mid-July and confessed to killing someone in San Francisco, Detective Bill Veteran said. But San Francisco cops had no idea what he was talking about.
Nekrawesh didn't know if Popal was on medication.
"His parents are very, very self-conscious," Nekrawesh said. "They try to keep things to themselves. We, as family members, didn't know he was hospitalized."
Nekrawesh said the family mentioned that they had considered taking Popal to a religious person for help.
"I strongly feel the whole family ... (has) been isolated from society."
"The parents think this is an evil society, so they try to overprotect their kids. At lunchtime at the school, someone was there with the kids — they tried to keep them away from other kids."
Nekrawesh said he almost never saw Popal at social events, only at the flea market with his family.
Popal and his siblings always were helping their father with his flea market business, and his parents did not allow him to have friends, or even be with cousins at family gatherings, Nekrawesh said.
"They are not permitted to talk to even their cousins or be alone with them for even five minutes."
Popal moved from Afghanistan, where his father was a teacher, to the United States when he was young. He grew up in Hayward,
and the family moved to Fremont several years ago. The family was concerned about violence in the Hayward school system, but Nekrawesh said he didn't know any specifics.
"Every time I've seen him, he has been very respectful. I've never seen the other side of him."
Popal attended San Jose State from August 1997 until the spring of 2000, majoring in business administration with a concentration in international business. He also attended Cal State East Bay.
"It's just a gradual longtime pressure that built up," Nekrawesh said. "He got overloaded and snapped."
One night, Nekrawesh's 12th-grade son went to the movies. Popal's father found out and called Nekrawesh, upset that he would let his son go to the movies with friends.
"His mom does not like to take advice or recommendations (on parenting)," Nekrawesh said.
Popal's father was religious but in no way extremist, Nekrawesh said. He added that the family's parenting style was "a personal issue, not a cultural issue."
Nekrawesh said it was possible that having a wife and then being separated also may have sent him over the edge.
Popal was in the SUV with his mother, brother and sister Tuesday morning, Nekrawesh said. They dropped his brother off at San Jose State and his sister at her school, but the whole time Popal was arguing with his mother, Nekrawesh said. They were discussing whether Popal might return to see his wife in Afghanistan. Popal's plan was to bring his wife to the United States, although that may have taken six months to a year to process a visa.
Popal married his bride after seeing a picture of her, Nekrawesh said, but he wasn't allowed to be in contact with her before they wed.
"Logic says, 'Yes,' he is old enough (to make his own decisions)," Nekrawesh said. "But you have to remember, he has been isolated from making decisions in life. Anything he does, he's trained to get his parents' opinion."
Nekrawesh said he spoke with Popal's parents, and they were "very sad about the victim's family." He said he saw Popal a couple of months before he left for Afghanistan, and that he seemed happy. They joked about his becoming a "big man" by getting married.
"I think this would have been avoided if he had some sort of connection or freedom of mind to have friends or connections with relatives," Nekrawesh said. "Somebody would have prevented this problem."
Nekrawesh said he hadn't talked with Popal's siblings.
"My concern is for the other children," Nekrawesh said. "These poor kids haven't been able to have a social life."