Published June 23, 2009
CONWAY, Ark. – The father of a soldier slain outside a recruiting center sought a quiet life for his family in rural Arkansas after years of military service, but the battlefield came home to find them.
Daris Long's son, Army Pvt. William Andrew Long, was shot Monday in suburban Little Rock while he stood and smoked a cigarette, far from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Long, 23, died in an attack that also wounded Pvt. Quinton I. Ezeagwula, 18. The alleged gunman, Abdulhakim Muhammad, also 23, told investigators he wanted to kill as many Army personnel as he could "because of what they had done to Muslims in the past," police said.
But Ezeagwula and Long had never seen battle. Both only completed basic training recently and had volunteered to help attract others into military service. Long was heading to South Korea, not even the Middle East, for his service.
"He was a hero. The other young lad that's in the hospital, he's a hero," Daris Long told Little Rock television station KATV. "They weren't on the battlefield, but apparently, the battlefield's here."
Long's service adds to his family's military tradition, his father said. The elder Long served in the Marine Corps while his wife Janet was in the Navy.
Flags honoring the two branches, as well as an American flag, hang over the garage door of their ranch home tucked away from neighbors in a small woods outside of Conway, 30 miles north of Little Rock. The family's gray station wagon bears a yellow ribbon magnet over its hatchback, another magnet showing two blue stars showing their sons — "Andy," as they called him, and Triston — in military service.
Long's father said the new soldier sought the Army on his own accord, rather than obediently following a family tradition of military service.
"I didn't have a preconceived notion that he had to go," the father told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. "He chose."
Daris Long spoke about his son reluctantly. Long said he mistrusted reporters, stemming from his time in Somalia during the American intervention there in the 1990s and saying he didn't like coverage of the 2008 presidential election.
Long said his son wanted to take advantage of the opportunities the Army offered, such as living in places other than just the "Middle Eastern dust heaps" that Marines now slog through. Born in Long Beach, Calif., William Long took a circuitous route to the Army and made the decision to join after hearing some of his brother's stories.
Questions remain about what route Muhammad, a Muslim convert, took before the shooting. Material seized from Muhammad's truck and apartment — including guns, ammunition and Molotov cocktails — led federal agents to caution that copycat attacks could not be ruled out.
An FBI-Homeland Security intelligence assessment document obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday suggested Muhammad, of Little Rock, may have considered targeting other locations, including Jewish and Christian sites.
The FBI said Muhammad "conducted Internet searches related to different locations in several U.S. cities" including Atlanta, Little Rock, Louisville, Ky., Memphis, Tenn., New York and Philadelphia and notified authorities in those locations.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said investigators found Google Earth images of various places, including Times Square. In Atlanta, FBI Agent Stephen Emmett said Muhammad had information regarding a "Jewish entity within our jurisdiction."
In Tennessee, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on its web site Wednesday that Muhammad, under his former name Carlos Bledsoe, was arrested in Knoxville in 2004 with an ounce of marijuana and a cache of high-powered firearms that he told police he planned to sell.
However, he escaped without any conviction on his record, the newspaper reported. Court records show only a single charge filed against him, accusing him of possessing an illegal weapon, but that charge was dismissed four months after his Feb. 21, 2004 arrest.
John Gill, special counsel to Randy Nichols, the Knox County prosecutor, said Wednesday he wasn't legally allowed to make any public statements about Bledsoe's case. The News Sentinel said court records weren't clear on whether some of Bledsoe's record might have been expunged.
Muhammad faces a capital murder charge, which could carry the death penalty if he's convicted. Muhammad has pleaded not guilty. Federal agents are also considering charges. The man formerly known as Carlos Bledsoe moved to Little Rock this spring as his father, Melvin Bledsoe, expanded his Memphis-based tour bus company. He was one of its drivers.
On Wednesday, Long's family visited a funeral home, setting up a Monday morning service for their son at the Harlan Park Baptist Church. Their son will be buried later that day at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock.
As rain began to fall, Long's eyes were red under the brim of an old marine corps hat. He excused himself as his wife came out of their home, saying he had an injured dog to take to the vet.
"You have to take care of the living," he said.