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SHOOTING AT LAX

Neighbors Describe Gunman as Aloof, Devout

July 06, 2002|CHRISTINE HANLEY and JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

But for a lottery, the man who shot up LAX might not have been there.

Six years ago, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, 41, a moon-faced Egyptian with a 5 o'clock shadow and a receding hairline, was facing deportation for overstaying his visa. Then his wife got lucky.

She was one of 55,000 immigrants who won a visa in an annual State Department lottery for people from countries with low immigration rates.

It gave the couple permission to live and work permanently in the United States.

Not that they always got along. Only a year before the lottery, Hadayet and his wife, Hala, accused each other of assault and battery, an Irvine police spokesman said. Officers said they could see no obvious injuries and neither of the Hadayets was arrested.

Such were the details that materialized Friday in the murky life of the 5-foot-8, 220-pound gunman who on his birthday, armed with .45-caliber and 9-millimeter pistols and a 6-inch knife, attacked a crowd at the El Al Israel Airlines ticket counter inside Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The FBI remained puzzled by his motive. Richard Garcia, the FBI's special agent in charge in Los Angeles, said agents were looking into all possibilities, including domestic problems or depression.

"Whether or not it was related to a family issue or just neighborly issues," Garcia told reporters, "we don't know."

What Garcia was referring to began to emerge from police accounts, official records and interviews with neighbors.

Social Security records indicate that Hadayet visited the United States as early as 1981, but the FBI said he came back on a six-month visa in 1992.

After his wife won the visa lottery in 1997, the couple lived in Irvine as resident aliens.

In Cairo, where he was born, Hadayet's family appears to have been well off. Relatives said he had been a good student and became an accountant at a bank.

But in Irvine, he drove a Yellow Cab and an airport shuttle for five years.

While he was a cabdriver, police say, he was robbed at knifepoint of $190 by two men whom he picked up at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.

In 1997, Hadayet started a limousine service, which he operated out of the family home in the Woodbridge Pines apartment complex on Willow Run.

Records indicate Hadayet struggled to stay in business. When he filed for a city business license, he listed only one employee, apparently himself.

He called his service Five Star Limo--not related to the similarly named Five Star Limousine of Huntington Beach. State records show he began with a six-passenger Lincoln. The next year, he added a nine-passenger limousine.

"We Make All Occasions Special," Hadayet's Internet advertisements said. He offered rides to weddings, graduations, Disneyland and Universal Studios.

By last summer, however, Hadayet's luck appeared to have turned sour. He notified the state that he had stopped operating one car, then the other. State records show his required insurance coverage was canceled. In November, after a series of warnings, the Public Utilities Commission revoked his limousine permit.

At the time of the shooting, DMV records show, Hadayet was leasing a 1999 Toyota Camry and a year-old Mercedes-Benz with a personalized license plate: "GOALIS."

Some neighbors said Hadayet was unfriendly.

The family kept the blinds closed and kept to themselves, the neighbors said, and Hadayet was particularly aloof. Several neighbors said he rarely acknowledged them and would not look women in the eye.

Scott Carstens, a sergeant in the Marine reserves, said Hadayet was unfriendly from the start. "I said hello to him specifically when we first moved in. He looked right at me and looked away, and he never said anything. I don't know if it's because I had a 'high and tight' [military haircut].

"I just know it bothered me enough that I didn't care to go down and talk to him."

But Carstens and his wife, Sarah, said Hala was always cordial. Sarah Carstens said she once mentioned to Hadayet's wife that she smelled good cooking, and Hala replied: "If you smell anything good, come on down and taste it."

Before Sept. 11, Carstens said, Hadayet put a bumper sticker on his front door that said: "Read the Koran." But Carstens said Hadayet took it down shortly after the terrorist attacks.

The sticker was visible again over the mail slot Thursday, he said.

Pamela Paulson, who lives two apartments away, said she saw Hadayet getting into his Mercedes at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. She was letting her poodle out, and the dog began barking.

Hadayet was carrying a small, dark box to the car, Paulson said. It was the last she saw of him.

Paulson said she tried to talk to Hala Hadayet a few months ago, but the husband abruptly called her to come back inside.

She dutifully followed him back into their apartment, Paulson said. "That was the relationship you saw between them--he was always walking first, and she was very subservient."

In May, the neighbor saw Hala picking up passports for her children, Omar, 11, and Adam, 8.

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