By Michael Ventura and Jill Colvin
MANHATTAN — People who knew the man accused of brutally stabbing a Muslim cabdriver in Gramercy Tuesday night were shocked to learn the budding filmmaker and art student was charged with attempted murder and hate crimes.
Michael Enright, 21, of Brewster, NY, who looked terrified during his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday, is an unlikely murder suspect and hate-inspired attacker. He's a student at the School of Visual Arts working on a documentary about a high school buddy's tour of duty in Afghanistan and volunteered for a interfaith group that supports peace and understanding — and the mosque near Ground Zero.
"This to me seemed very shocking," said Joseph Ward, communications director for Intersections International, the interfaith group. He said there was no evidence "at all" to suggest that Enright harbored any feelings against the organization's mission of interfaith dialogue and peace.
"Michael was a good volunteer. If this is the same person, we would not have ever been able to think of this," Ward said. "He is a great kid. This was news to me, and I think news to many folks."
Enright was charged Wednesday with attempted murder as a hate crime for repeatedly stabbing taxi driver Ahmed H. Sharif after inquiring whether the cabbie was Muslim. The SVA student was drunk during the attack, the New York Post reported.
Police sources told the Daily News that Sharif had a personal diary filled with pages of "pretty strong anti-Muslim comment" when he was arrested.
Sharif allegedly called Muslims "killers, ungrateful for the help they were being offered, filthy murderers without a conscience," the News reported.
Some of his friends said that Enright had a drinking problem, Talking Points Memo reported. One student who did not wish to be named said he had a "bad, bad drinking problem," according to TPM.
He was taken to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric evaluation Tuesday night, and was arraigned at Manhattan Criminal Court Wednesday afternoon.
A former classmate of Enright at Brewster High School told Talking Points Memo that the incident was "just disgusting, sad, horrific."
One neighbor in his Enright's hometown who asked not to be identified said she never would have expected he could be accused of something like this.
"I can't believe he would have done something like that," she told DNAinfo. "It's very unfortunate."
A formal statement released by Intersections International said that "one of our volunteers may have been charged with a hate crime in a stabbing incident that involved a New York City cab driver on Tuesday evening."
They said that person, whom they did not name, never was an employee.
"There is a person who fits the description of the alleged perpetrator who has worked with us as a volunteer, but until we get further confirmation of the details in this incident, we cannot comment," the statement continued. It went on to say it supported Sharif and anyone else who has suffered "such unacceptable violence."
For his senior project, Enright was embedded with the Marine unit of Cp. Alex Eckner, his friend and classmate from Brewster High School, the Journal News reported. His trip to Afghanistan was also for an initiative at Intersections International called the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue project.
Ward said Enright approached Intersections about the project a year ago.
He told the paper he hoped to go on to become a documentary filmmaker after he graduated.
But one friend reportedly said the trip to Afghanistan changed the budding filmmaker.
"He said it was chaos," a friend told the Daily News. "He did mention that they lost a few troops over there."
School of Visual Arts spokesman John Wyszniewski confirmed that Enright was a current student, but declined to comment further.
A trailer for the film, "Home of the Brave," posted on YouTube, said it was to be released in Spring 2011.
Enright filmed Eckner during basic training in Hawaii earlier this year, the Journal news said. He was planning to join his friend in Hellmand Province, Afghanistan this past Spring.
"It's completely nonpolitical. It's just showing the young people who are spearheading our foreign policy," Enright said of his Afghanistan film, the Journal News said. "They're doing what I don't have to do."
On his Facebook page, Enright lists Filmmaking and Friendship among the things he "likes." He was also a fan of "Law & Order" and "Falling Down," a film starring Michael Douglas in which a man has a mental breakdown and goes on a violent rampage.
Intersections International described itself on its website as a partner organization to The Cordoba House, the group behind the Park51 mosque and community center near Ground Zero.
"While acknowledging the real pain that 9/11 continues to evoke," Intersections said in a press release earlier this month, "Intersections deplores those who would use this project to promote fear and vitriol for personal gain or partisan politics."