McLean, Virginia - Bijan C. Ghaisar had a passion for football, for liberal politics, for chicken wings and chocolate. He had embraced Buddhism in the last year of his life, and the only conflict in his world came in his strident Facebook discussions. He was 25 years old, two years out of college and working as an accountant while searching for his career path, living a comfortable life surrounded by family and friends in his home town of McLean, Virginia.
It has now been two months since Ghaisar was mortally wounded by US Park Police after a brief pursuit in Northern Virginia. His family says their grief has been amplified by the mystery of what happened that November evening. His parents said the FBI has told them almost nothing about the circumstances of the shooting.
How could such a beloved guy wind up in such a terrible spot?
No one who knew "Bij" has any clue. His family remains nearly paralyzed with grief at his sudden death, intensified by the incongruity of a peace-loving, anti-gun public accountant being shot in the head repeatedly as he sat behind the wheel of his Jeep Grand Cherokee on a dark residential street in Fairfax County, Virginia.
"This kid worked hard. That's why I'm so mad," said his mother, Kelly Ghaisar of McLean, Virginia. "All the Christmas holidays, he used to study. He studied abroad. He didn't take anything lightly. He worked hard. This is what kills me, that this life should have ended this senselessly. He worked hard for everything."
He moved easily through large groups of friends: his classmates at Langley High School, where he played lacrosse and football; his pals in the large Iranian community of Northern Virginia, many of whom endured Saturday afternoon classes at the Persian school together; his fraternity brothers from Virginia Commonwealth University; his family and his brother-in-law's, who quickly adopted him as their sibling. Perhaps 1,000 people, from all those groups, gathered for a vigil in his honor outside the Lincoln Memorial last month, and a group nearly that large attended his memorial service.
"I always thought if any of us would be all right, it would be Bij," said his sister, Negeen Ghaisar. "He was the healthiest, the happiest. He was always very comforting." She recalled his first trip to Inova Fairfax Hospital, as a 3-year-old who had fallen and sliced open his forehead the night before her birthday. Blood poured down his face, but "he calmed and comforted me" in the emergency room, she said at his memorial. "He passed exactly 22 years later on that same day in that same hospital."
What is known about Ghaisar's fatal shooting has only contributed to the confusion surrounding him. The Park Police said that his Jeep was involved in an accident on the George Washington Memorial Parkway at Slaters Lane, north of Alexandria, but that he drove away. Why would he leave the scene of a fender bender? Was anyone hurt? The police refused to release any information about the accident.
The Park Police said that officers soon spotted and pursued his Jeep down the parkway south of Alexandria. A witness told The Washington Post that Ghaisar pulled over at the West Boulevard Drive exit, but when police approached his Jeep, he quickly sped away in an evasive but nonthreatening way, according to the witness. Why would he do that? His family and friends speculate he was fearful of something, but they don't know what.
Seconds later, he pulled over again. A witness told The Post that two officers emerged from their car and began firing into Ghaisar's Jeep. What, if anything, did he do to cause such a deadly reaction? The Park Police and FBI won't say. The names of the officers and their reasons for shooting have not been released. A Fairfax County police officer recorded the shooting on an in-car camera, but the video hasn't been made public.
His family said that Ghaisar was shot three times in the head and that he was unarmed. "He hated guns," his longtime friend Jeff Caesar said. "There were few things in the world he hated, but one thing he hated was guns." Numerous friends and family members all voiced similar sentiments, that he was always advocating peace and nonviolence.
After the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, Ghaisar took to Facebook to say it was upsetting that a semiautomatic rifle with a 100-round magazine "can still be legally owned by Americans." He wrote that "to argue and say that gun control is absurd because you want to feel 'safe' or you just 'enjoy having a gun,' then I encourage you to reevaluate your morals. It is selfishness like that that has led to war in many nations."
The Park Police handled the Ghaisar investigation for three days, then shifted it to the FBI. Neither agency would comment on the case.
Ghaisar's parents, James and Kelly Ghaisar, both grew up in Iran and immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. Kelly Ghaisar's father was the police chief in Shiraz, Iran, and she said her son grew up with a deep respect for law enforcement. James and Kelly were married in 1986. Negeen was born in 1988 and Bijan in 1992, also at Inova Fairfax Hospital. After living in Vienna, Virginia, for several years, they moved to McLean, where James launched his own accounting practice and Kelly worked as a makeup artist, sold real estate and dabbled in interior design.
In the suburban bubble of well-heeled Fairfax County, the Ghaisar children had a typically safe and smooth childhood of rec league sports, summers at the pool and deeply involved parents. "Bijan was always very particular about everything," his mother said, laughing. "He always had to wear khakis. His pockets were always full of coins, so he had to wear suspenders. This child knew what he wanted, how he wanted it, what he wanted to play. He hated copying people. He had to be the one who started everything."
His passions moved from floors filled with miniature cars to video games, an interest that lasted into adulthood. He recently polled his friends on Facebook for their opinions on the latest version of "Call of Duty," the hugely popular first-person shooter game.
And he loved football. As a 9-year-old after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Ghaisar watched a team called the Patriots rise up with an unsung quarterback named Tom Brady to win the Super Bowl that season. "He said, 'They are my favorite team,'" his mother recalled. "He said they brought him hope for America." One friend cracked, "Tom Brady was his Jesus." He named his dog Bruschi, after Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
At Langley High School, he went out for both football and lacrosse, although he was not particularly big or athletic. "He was not necessarily the best player," his mother said. "He worked really hard at being an athlete. He would start training way ahead of his team, lifting weights, agility drills, practicing his timing." He played three seasons of both sports until a dislocated shoulder kept him off the field his senior year, his mother said. He graduated in 2010.
For college, he and several friends chose the University of Alabama, where Ghaisar's father had earned two master's degrees. The lure of big-time college "football, fraternities and Southern girls" drew Ghaisar to the school, his mother said. But it was far from home, and after a devastating hurricane his freshman year, he transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University.
"He was just a goofy guy, really jovial," said Kyle Groome, his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brother at VCU. "Always a pleasure to be around."
"This kid, immediately, there was just something so amazing when you met him," said Caesar, the longtime friend, who was also in Pi Kappa Alpha. "When I was showing him around campus, I was like, this kid is my little brother. Bijan was hilarious. He was one of the funniest people you ever met." He declared on Facebook last year he was "All in for President Blart 2020," supporting the movie character Paul Blart, a mall security cop played by Kevin James.
He liked debating the issues of the day, watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on late-night TV, and starting discussions on Facebook or with friends and family. "He liked politically charged conversations," Groome said.
Ghaisar graduated with an accounting degree in 2015 and began working for his father's firm. He rented an apartment in a Tysons Corner, Virginia, high-rise and hung out with friends, attending Washington Wizards games, meeting weekly for wings at Buffalo Wing Factory and playing golf with pals and spending nights in the District of Columbia and Arlington and Alexandria in Virginia.
In many ways, he was a typical 25-year-old, searching for his place. He did not have a steady girlfriend but dated a number of young women and was looking for a long-term relationship, his friends said.
He wanted religion in his life, his mother said, but his family was not particularly devout. He researched and tried several faiths before he visited a Buddhist center in Bethesda, Maryland, then went to a silent retreat and began attending services there every Wednesday, his mother said.
Professionally, he wanted something more than accounting. "In the last year or so, he kind of questioned me," his father said. "He said, 'We are not making anything. I'd like to do something to make this world better.' He had high hopes of doing something good."
One of the advantages of working in accounting was that in the offseason of taxes, there was not so much pressure to punch the clock and ring up hours. So on Friday, Nov. 17, Ghaisar's first stop of the day was at his parents' home, where he hung out with his mother awhile - and where his old room still had posters of Muhammad Ali, John F. Kennedy and Pink Floyd on the walls. He then went to the mall to have his cellphone repaired, his mother said.
After that, he came back to his parents' house for lunch, then took a walk with his mother on a familiar route to a tranquil pond nearby. Kelly tried to persuade her son to spend the rest of the day with her, but he insisted he needed to check back in at work. He left at 3:30 p.m., and "that was the last time I saw him," his mother said.
James was in a seminar but said his son was only in their McLean office for 10 or 15 minutes, probably leaving before 4 p.m. The father and son had plans to meet back home at 8 p.m. and go out for dinner. But Bijan never showed up. Where was he between 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., when the accident occurred in Alexandria? His family and friends don't know.
His parents were dozing on the couch, waiting to hear from him, when two Park Police detectives knocked at 1 a.m., more than five hours after the shooting. The Ghaisar parents hurried to Inova Fairfax, where their son spent ten days on a respirator before dying Nov. 27.
"Bijan was just special," his mother said. "He wanted to be in politics and do something huge. . . . It's not right that one side of this situation, the FBI and the authorities, has all the information and we don't have access to anything. Where in the world do we live? How can somebody's child be killed in this country in this century and nobody comes to talk to you? What is that?"
The Washington Post