Ali Eskandarian was on the third floor of a row house in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just after midnight on Monday morning when a disgruntled Iranian musician climbed onto the adjoining terrace and opened fire through the window.
Eskandarian was killed instantly. So were two brothers, bandmates in the Yellow Dogs, who were on the floor below. The gunman, identified by police as Ali Akbar Mohammadi Rafie, killed himself on the roof.
Rafie's exact motive is unclear, but The New York Times chalks it up to "money, distrust and discord sown amid a tight fraternity of Iranian rock artists." The Yellow Dogs were a fixture on the underground rock music scene in Tehran until they were granted political asylum in the U.S. last year. Rafie was a bassist in another Iranian band, the Free Keys, until he was kicked out not long after their move to the States.
Eskandarian, though, was a solo artist, not a member of the Yellow Dogs. and his friends and family in the Dallas area, where he was raised, can't imagine him wronging anyone.
"We do not understand it," says Jordan Hashem, a fellow member of Plano Senior High's class of 1996. "Everybody loved Ali. Everybody loves Ali."
Hashem first met Eskandarian in geometry class during their junior year, just after Hashem's family had just arrived from California. He was feeling awkward and out of place when Eskandarian struck up a conversation.
They immediately clicked, thanks in no small part to their musical interests. Hashem played the keyboard, Eskandarian guitar, and they would go to each other's house and just jam. Soon, Hashem was part of a tight-knit group of friends centered on Eskandarian, whose personality was magnetic.
"If you had met him, you would understand," Hashem says. "He's just so big metaphorically speaking. His build is little but he had, not a cockiness, none of that, just had big smile that made his personality bigger than all of us."
It was too big for Dallas, which is why Eskandarian moved to New York City about a decade ago, to act and play music. To his his friends back home, that's where he belonged, which was clear when he returned to Texas five years ago to live and work for a time.
He carved out a niche, releasing well-received albums and music videos. Here's one:
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Even at a decade's remove, though, Eskandarian's bond with friends and family here are strong, and they were shocked and distraught when they learned of his murder. Hashem says Eskandarian's family was always close and is "torn up" by the news.
Those emotions won't fade quickly, but friends are already laying plans for how to memorialize him. First up, they want to bring his body back to Dallas, so he can be buried with his family. They've set up a donations website to help defray the costs.
The specifics will come later. For now, everyone's coping with the fact that he's gone.
"Too soon," Hashem says, voice breaking. "He was just getting started, just getting warmed up."