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Killer Iranian Musician Grew Despondent Over Banishment by Fellow Expats

By Meredith Hoffman | November 12, 2013 5:39pm | Updated on November 12, 2013 6:02pm
 Ali Ahkbar Mohammadi Rafie, 29, the bassist for the Iranian indie rock band Free Keys, committed suicide after killing three fellow musicians in Williamsburg on Nov. 11, 2013, police said.
Ali Ahkbar Mohammadi Rafie, 29, the bassist for the Iranian indie rock band Free Keys, committed suicide after killing three fellow musicians in Williamsburg on Nov. 11, 2013, police said.
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EAST WILLIAMSBURG — The bassist who killed three fellow Iranian musicians and then shot himself early Monday morning was so despondent over a money dispute with his ex-band members that his parents begged them to welcome him back to the scene, officials said.

Ali Akhbar Mohammadi Rafie, 29, a Tehran native who shot two members of the Yellow Dogs and another musician before committing suicide early Monday morning, had been thrown out of the successful group about a year ago, after a falling-out, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

"Relatives were petitioning the band to bring him back in," Kelly said. "He was reportedly despondent over the fact he wasn't in the band."

Rafie fired 19 rounds from his Century Sporter .308 caliber during the rampage at the band's home and studio on 318 Maujer St. Monday morning after climbing to a third-story landing and breaking in through the window. He smuggled the gun to the home in a guitar case.

Rafie killed brothers Arash and Souroush Farazmand of the Yellow Dogs and fellow musician Ali Eskandarian before climbing onto the roof and turning the weapon on himself.

"This person was clearly sad and lost," said Jify Shah, the manager of Williamsburg's popular venue Cameo Gallery, who had met Rafie in passing, but was closer to surviving Yellow Dogs member Koory Mirz, who played at the venue.

At the time of the shooting, Mirz was working the door at Cameo Gallery and received a call from the fourth band member, known as Obaash, who had also been away from the band's building at the time of the incident.

Obaash "said that someone broke in and started shooting everyone," recalled Shah. "All we were able to find out was that one person was shot in the arm and was at the hospital, and so we let [Mirz] go of course and he went to the hospital."

Rafie had sunk into despair after fighting with the band, officials said. While in the past he frequently broadcasted messages of hope and inspiration on social media, his recent posts hinted at depression.

"Music is the hero no matter who you are," he wrote on Facebook in July 2011, and later that year he posted, "the positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.”

But his more recent posts had turned far darker.

"Red wine and sleeping pills help me get back to your arms," his most recent Facebook post reads, quoting Radiohead lyrics. "Cheap sex and sad films help me get where I belong."

Rafie had moved to New York from Tehran for musical freedom with his group the Free Keys, as did the band's "best friends" the Yellow Dogs, past articles report. There was an overlap in the bands' members — Yellow Dogs member Arash Farazmand was the drummer for the Free Keys in past stories about the band.

The Free Keys, like the Yellow Dogs, were featured in the documentary on Iran's underground rock scene "No One Knows About Persian Cats."

"Our dear friends the Free Keys Are Playing Their FIRST shows with new songs and members next week," the Yellow Dogs wrote this summer promoting their fellow musicians. "Make sure you go to at least to one of them."

Tuesday afternoon, the dreadlocked singer of Free Keys, Pooya Hosseini, stopped by the Maujer Street home where he lived to pick up his belongings, but was turned away by investigators who were still sifting through the crime scene.

The butt of the rifle used to kill his fellow Iranian expats could be seen among the spent shell casings that littered the roof. The soft black guitar case used to smuggle the gun to the roof lay a few yards away.

Additional reporting by Murray Weiss, Gustavo Solis and Ben Fractenberg