SANFORD, Fla. – A maintenance worker at Husseini Islamic Center near Sanford was killed, possibly with a shovel, according to Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma.
Investigators said the body of the 59-year-old man was found at the center, at 5211 Hester Ave., around 8:45 a.m. Thursday. Lemma said the suspect, later identified as 38-year-old Ahmed Raslan, was found by deputies in Indian River County where he was shot three times but is still alive.
The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office said Friday morning Raslan is in stable condition.
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Lemma said the maintenance worker is a refugee from Iraq who was getting ready to return home following the death of his father.
“He was the heart and soul of this mosque,” said Mahmood Dhalla, president of the Husseini Islamic Center.
Originally the sheriff’s office said Raslan, a man born in Egypt who had lived in the U.S. most of his life, was training to replace the victim. Deputies said they no longer believe that is the case.
The sheriff’s office now said the Raslan was possibly deranged and believed he was told to come to the mosque by Julius Caesar. They said the suspect has said he was told to defend Julius Caesar’s home, and he was given the address of the mosque.
“He felt this was his home, and the property on the inside was Caesar’s property,” Lemma said. “And his intent was to defend that, even at the cost of murder. It looks like our victim in this case, in a very heroic effort, was the first person that actually walked into the establishment at the time.”
Raslan’s social media posts, which were discussed at Thursday’s news briefing, can be found in full below.
The victim tried to defend the mosque, according to the sheriff.
“He was a gentlemen and an amazing guy and he’s going to be missed. It’s such a tragic incident,” Dhalla said. “He’s always said ‘I would protect this place with my life’ and I think he did. So we’re very grateful.”
Lemma said a shovel found on the scene is likely the murder weapon. Deputies believe the attacker dragged the victim outside and attempted to hose down the body.
“Just before deputies walked through the establishment, another woman pulled in. As she was pulling in, her report was — she was familiar with the maintenance man, our victim. She saw his car at the gate and somebody was out of the gate, opening the gate that was not him. So our suspect was driving the victim’s car,” Lemma said.
Deputies said the suspect was seen leaving the scene in the victim’s 2006 blue Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
Several hours later, the Indian River Sheriff’s Office spotted the van in the parking lot of a Sam’s Club.
Body camera video released by the sheriff’s office shows deputies attempted to conduct a traffic stop and when the man got out of the vehicle, he reached into his pocket and gestured with his fingers like he had a weapon, according to the sheriff there.
Lemma added that no deputies were hurt.
The sheriff said if the man survives, he could face a first-degree murder charge.
The identity of the victim has not been released.