Rais Bhuiyan, Victim of Post-9/11 Hate Crime, Calls for Forgiveness for His Attacker

Rais Bhuiyan11.jpg
Photo by Alex Scott
Rais Bhuiyan speaking to a group from Amnesty International at SMU earlier this spring
On September 21, 2001, Rais Bhuiyan, then 27 years old, was working behind the cash register of a Texaco station in Pleasant Grove when a man wearing a bandanna, sunglasses and a baseball cap walked into the station holding a gun.

Bhuiyan, a slight, soft-spoken man with big eyes and a thatch of dark hair, thought he was being robbed. But instead of grabbing the cash from the till, the stranger did something odd. He asked a question.

"Where are you from?" the man demanded.

"Excuse me?" Bhuiyan replied.

So the stranger pulled the trigger.

"I felt the sensation of a million bees stinging my face and then heard an explosion," Bhuiyan later wrote in an editorial for The Dallas Morning News,long after his story had come and gone from the national news cycle. "Images of my mother, father and fiancée appeared before my eyes, and then, a graveyard. I didn't know if I was still alive."

He looked down at the floor and saw that blood was pouring from his head. He screamed for his mother. Then, realizing his attacker would likely shoot him again, he played dead.

Mark Stroman was 31 years old the day he shot Rais Bhuiyan. Stroman was an ex-con and meth abuser with previous convictions for credit card fraud, burglary, robbery and theft, and he'd been in trouble nearly all his life. By age 12, he'd already committed his first armed robbery. He'd done two prison bids by 2001, one for two years and another for eight. On September 15, 2001, he shot and killed Waqar Hasan, a 46-year-old convenience store clerk from Pakistan and a father of four. A week later, he shot Bhuiyan. And a couple weeks after that, on October 4, he murdered Vasudev Patel, a father of two and a clerk at a Shell station on Big Town Boulevard.

Stroman, a self-described white supremacist, claimed he'd lost a sister in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center (though it's not clear if that claim was ever verified), and said later that he wanted "to retaliate on local Arab Americans, or whatever you want to call them."

"I did what every American wanted to do but didn't," he told a reporter in a television interview. "They didn't have the nerve."

Bhuiyan survived his shooting, barely. He was blinded in his right eye, and he credits God with sending an angel to move his head slightly at the moment of the shooting; otherwise, he says, he would have lost vision in both. Photos taken of him a few weeks after the attack are shocking: His eye sags shut, dark pellet wounds dot his face, and one of his bottom teeth is knocked out. For six days after the attack, his parents only knew that their son had been shot in the face, but not if he was alive or dead. He couldn't move his mouth or speak. His father suffered a stroke from the stress.

Even after he had recovered somewhat, Rais couldn't fly home to see his parents, for fear that the pressure changes on the plane might have caused his injured eye to explode. "For six months, I holed up, praying to God to heal my badly scarred face so that people wouldn't recoil at the sight of me," he later wrote.

Yesterday, almost 10 years later, Bhuiyan stood in front of an audience of journalists and others in the Great Hall of SMU's Perkins School of Theology, dressed in a dark suit, a mint green shirt and a striped tie in muted colors. The only visible signs of his shooting are the sagging in his blinded eye and a slight stiffness in his face when he speaks. He was there to call for compassion on behalf of Stroman, the man who took his sight and the lives of two others.

"My mother taught me that if people hurt you, don't hurt them back," he told the audience, his voice occasionally breaking with emotion. "Today or tomorrow, they will ask for forgiveness."

Stroman was sentenced to death in April of 2002 for the slaying of Vasudev Patel (he was charged with the other two crimes, but only confessed to them after being arrested for shooting Patel). With his execution date scheduled for July 20, a little less than five weeks away, Rais Bhuiyan, his only surviving victim, is asking that he be spared and his death sentence commuted to life in prison.

"I strongly believe he was ignorant," Bhuiyan explained to the audience. "He couldn't differentiate right from wrong...By executing him now, we are losing everything." His Muslim faith, he said, teaches forgiveness, not vengeance.

Nadeem Akthar, the brother-in-law of another of Stroman's victims, Hasan, spoke at the press conference as well. "The last 10 years have been a long 10 years," he told the audience. "We've been going through a lot of turmoil...but we made it here." He quoted Sura 5, verse 32 from the Quran, something he said his sister, Hasan's wife, had wanted him to share. "If someone slays one person, he has slain mankind entirely," reads the verse. "And if someone has saved one person, he has saved mankind entirely."

"We forgive him," Akthar concluded. "God forgive him."

Rick Halperin, director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program, also spoke, along with a number of other local religious leaders from both the Muslim and Christian communities. "This type of request from a victim is unusual," Halperin said of Bhuiyan's call for forgiveness. He said that the District Attorney's office usually approaches a victim's family to ask if they want a death penalty to be pursued. He said Mrs. Hasan had also submitted a signed, notarized letter to District Attorney Craig Watkins's office, echoing Bhuiyan's call for commutation.

(Patel's family hasn't commented publicly on how they feel about the call to forgive Stroman. A family member, John Patel, told reporters immediately after Stroman's sentencing that the family was "very happy with the verdict," and that the brutality of the crimes merited the death penalty.)

Halperin said that Stroman had written him a letter two years ago, saying he was "deeply sorry for what he had done." Bhuiyan added that in 2004 and 2005 that Stroman had expressed remorse in media interviews, though he's never contacted Bhuiyan directly.

Halperin called on the district attorney's office, which has so far declined to comment, to answer Bhuiyan's request for commutation.

"The family members are in limbo" until this is resolved, he said. "As a matter of manners, the DA owes the family a reply."
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19 comments
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Lucbinion
Lucbinion

I think that the fact that the sole survivor of a horrible hate crime's requests to let his attacker live went unanswered says a lot about our justice system's flaws. Rais Bhuiyan's decision to fight for his attacker's life instead of his death should not have gone unanswered.

Guest
Guest

Stroman is not eligible for a commutation to LWOP. He would be parole eligible if commuted. Stroman is not sorry...not at all. Read his latest blog entry posted on the 23rd. He mentions Mr. Bhuiyan by name, but no public apology....only gushing on thanking him and others for trying to help him escape his punishment.

And +1 on the whole imaginary sister who allegedly died on 9/11. It was brought up on his blog in the comments as well and quickly discarded by his supporters. It is a disgrace to all who died that day to try to tie his racially motivated robberies and murders to the tragedy of 9/11.

JoeeyLaRusso
JoeeyLaRusso

If, but not until, the Patel family forgives him let him get life in prison. But if they do not forgive let him die.We have enough murderers in this world.

Kuei
Kuei

"I did what every American wanted to do but didn't," 

I didn't want to do that. I wanted bush and cheney executed for conspiracy against america. And, still do. I never once believed that those 2 were not involved.

Iml8ter
Iml8ter

Oh give me a break!!!!  You are Rosie O'Donnelle, PPPUUULLLLEEEEZZZZZ!!!   Okay, let's move on and now you can blame Obama for the state of our country today!!!!! 

Iml8ter
Iml8ter

I was in such shock that someone would still be blaming Bush and Cheney for 9/11 I made a typo - that is supposed to be, "......you AND Rosie O'Donnelle......."

Hadi Jawad
Hadi Jawad

Thank you for telling this wonderful story Ms Merlan.I would like to ask folks who support  Rais' plea toplease visit www.worlfwithouthate.org and sign the petition to save Mark Stroman;s life.

-Hadi Jawad.

Harvey Lacey
Harvey Lacey

I'm a non-theist.

Every now and then someone will do something really good and important and they will explain their actions by mentioning they are not a non-theist.

Those times I appreciate theism.

This is one of those times.

Justin C
Justin C

a "thatch" of hair? you didnt want to use a "shock" of hair?

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

"My mother taught me that if people hurt you, don't hurt them back," he told the audience,

I think he just got banned from the W's Library for ever.

Guest
Guest

Since the article didn't have a quote from Mark Stroman, here's one from his website: "I believe that if you are selling me a Dairy Queen shake, a pack og [sic] cigarettes or hotel room, you do it in English. As a matter of fact, If you are an American citizen, you should speak English. My uncles and forefathers shouldn’t have had to die in vain so you can leave the country you were born in to come here and disrespect ours and make us bend to your will."

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

I respect Mr. Bhuiyan. Even after his attack and near death experience, he is showing grace, compassion and forgiveness to his attacker, something our fellow christians and the Patel family have forgotten in this day and age. For the gentleman in question, I suggest a commuting of his sentence to life in prison, no chance at parole.

JoeeyLaRusso
JoeeyLaRusso

It is not the responsibility of the Patel family to forgive a murderer.  It is the murderer's responsibility to ask for forgiveness.  Has he?  Please post a copy of the letter he sent to the Patel family asking for their forgiveness.

Chopuppy
Chopuppy

I don't believe it's fair to blame the Patel family for not forgiving a heartless murderer. It is an extraordinary act of grace that Mr. Buiyan can forgive his attacker, but he lives while others died. The Patel family can not be blamed for wanting justice.

Margalo
Margalo

Exactly. As a someone who loves my friends and family, I empathize completely with the Patel family; as a Christian, I aspire to Mr. Buiyan's level of compassion and goodness.

TimCov
TimCov

The men who spoke at this gathering have proven themselves better than Stroman. If we can guarantee that Stroman can never set foot outside of a prison again, I say commute his sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole. Admittedly, this is because I believe it is a harsher punishment than executing him.

Central Scrutinizer
Central Scrutinizer

Agreed, for the exact same reason. Most people on death row, we do them a favor by killing them.

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