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Americas

Tragic ‘murder-suicide’ of Iranian band who fled to US

© Photo: Yellow Dogs Facebook page

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2013-11-12

A group of Iranian rock musicians who left Tehran to seek asylum in the US were found dead on Monday morning at their Brooklyn home, shot dead by a fellow musician who then took his own life in a case that has left friends and fans dumbfounded.

A group of Iranian musicians who fled the country to follow their dream of making rock music were shot dead by a fellow musician who then took his own life in their Brooklyn home on Monday, in a story that has horrified New York and the Iranian community in the US alike.

Brothers Soroush and Arash Farazmund waved goodbye to their native Iran in 2010 when they left on artists’ visas to play at SXSW festival in Texas. Instead of returning home, the musicians applied for asylum in the US and began carving out a name for themselves in the grungy bars of Brooklyn.

Persecuted in Iran for “illegal activity” (rock music is deemed anti-religious by the Islamic Republic), The Yellow Dogs’ quirky post-punk sound and exotic lyrics were warmly received in the US, where they were quickly noticed by the likes of Rolling Stone magazine and invited to play at events across the USA.

They performed for the last time three weeks ago, alongside band members Siavash Karampour and Koory Mirz, at the famous Brooklyn Bowl, which described the band on its website as “crackling with life, wit, tension and imagination”.

Killer Ali Akbar Mohammadi Rafie, 29, played in The Free Keys, which The Yellow Dogs described as their "sister band," until he was kicked out over a money issue. He shot himself on the roof of the apartment after his rampage. Photo: Facebook.

On Monday morning, the brothers were both found dead, along with their flatmate and musical collaborator, 35-year-old Ali Eskandarian. The three men were murdered by fellow Iranian musician Ali Akbar Mohammadi Rafie, 29, who then killed himself, leaving friends and fans dumbfounded.

Gunned down in their home

According to the police spokesman John J. McCarthy in an interview with the New York Times, Rafie accessed the apartment by climbing across two rooftops and claimed his first victim, 35-year-old Ali Eskandarian, by shooting him through a living room window.

He then sought out Soroush, 27, who he shot in the chest as he lay on his bed, and Arash, 28, who he shot in the head at his computer. Another resident, 22-year-old Sasan Sadeghpour, was shot in the arm twice, but survived. Rafie kicked down the door of another apartment in the building and was confronted by Pooya Hosseini, also a musician, who scuffled with Rafie but managed to escape unhurt. Rafie then returned to the roof of the building, where he shot himself in the head.

Ali Salehezadeh, who managed the group and lived in the same apartment block, told Reuters that they had fallen out with Rafie after he was kicked out of their sister band, The Free Keys, for stealing money.

“When he was kicked out of his own band, we pretty much cut all relations with him, we weren't really friends with him," Salehezadeh said in a phone interview from Brazil. He said that even he was struggling to find a possible motive for the killings. "I don't know if he came to get them or to get all of us or to get revenge because one of the members of Free Keys lives with us as well," he said.

‘Distraught friends and neighbours’

The band’s Facebook page was inundated with distraught messages on Monday as friends and fans grappled with the news.

Brian Kiernan Devine Jr, a member of a film crew who had been making a documentary about the group, wrote that he was “shattered” by the news. “They are the warmest, most true hearted and idealistic group of young artists you could be lucky enough to know. The fact that they managed to escape from Iran and gain political asylum in New York City, finally able to chase their creative dreams – only to have this happen to them in our town – to be gunned down in their beds over a whole bunch of nothing. It is beyond any belief. It is madness.”

The band lived at 318 Maujer Street in an industrial part of East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. On Monday evening, the street remained cordoned off by police. Photo: Sophie Pilgrim/ FRANCE 24.

Yanira Lantigua, a cashier at the local store where the men used to buy groceries, described them as “lovely, quiet boys who never spoke badly”. Lantigua, who lives a block away from the band’s home and heard police helicopters circling the area at around 1am on Monday morning, said she went into shock when she found out who was involved. “They came in to buy sandwiches and coffee just the other day,” she told FRANCE 24. “The brothers were inseparable. They were really nice kids.”

Alireza Tabibian, an Iranian expat living in Austin, Texas, who has met the band and has seen them perform twice, described them as “very cool kids who just wanted to play their music and have fun”.

Tabibian said that family and friends in Tehran would be horrified by the details of the story because gun crime is almost nonexistent in Iran. “We don't have much gun crime since it's illegal to own guns,” he told FRANCE 24. “I’m very confused myself, and I have lived in the US for seven years.”

Mehdi Saharkhiz, a FRANCE 24 Observer who met the band in 2010 and spoke fondly of them, tweeted on Monday: “It is hell. I can't believe it still”.

'Didn't get a chance'

The Yellow Dogs had been tipped by music websites and magazines as “one to watch,” and had built up a solid fan base across the US and even abroad. The last band member to apply for asylum was granted his papers only a few months ago, and the band had been planning to tour Europe and Turkey, where they were hoping to meet up with family and friends from Iran.

Before leaving Iran the band had featured in a documentary about Tehran’s underground music scene, "No One Knows About Persian Cats”, which won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 2009.

They also featured in a 2009 report by CNN, during which Siavash Karampour described his band members as “closer than my brothers”.

Arash, the elder of the two brothers killed, said that the band had absolutely no support in Iran. But band member Koory Mirz expressed optimism about their future. “I know 100% we’ll make it, and that’s why I’ve dedicated my life to it,” he said.

In the last interview Sorosh gave before he was killed, he told Vice magazine: “We decided to live in Brooklyn because this was a place we could grow.” Matt Katz, the journalist who carried out the interview, said his “heart sank” when he found out they were involved in the shooting.

"They were a dirty little punk band coming from Iran, and they were turning heads, they were getting tighter," manager Salehezadeh told Reuters on Monday. "The guys always said, If we're gonna make it, we have to make it in New York," he said. "But we didn't get a chance."

Date created : 2013-11-12

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