Saheed Vassell, the mentally ill man gunned down by NYPD officers on April 4, sought refuge in religion. After the police killing, Vassell, 34, was portrayed by law enforcement as a caricature of a Black man pointing a pipe at passersby on a Brooklyn sidewalk. But a fuller picture of Vassell, including his devotional life, is now emerging.
A stack of Bibles and religious books were among the items on Vassell’s bedroom dresser at his parents’ apartment, according to the New York Times. His various Bibles were placed neatly in size order, one on top of the other, with the largest at the bottom.
He routinely attended 7:30 a.m. service at St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church. Vassell, a father of a teenage son, also went to Mass at the church every Sunday.
“He would go to the Mother Mary statue, kiss the hand and place his hand on the statues,” Althea Pierre, a 60-year-old parishioner, told the newspaper. “He just came in, did his signs, walked around and walked out.”
Religion appears to have been a source of calm for Vassell. He would walk around the neighborhood reciting Scripture to himself. “He knew the Bible back to front,” a neighbor, Claudia Ellis, 61, stated.
Vassell, who immigrated at 6 years old to the United States from Jamaica, was one of four siblings who lived in their parents’ two-bedroom apartment as children in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. He dropped out of high school but ultimately built a career as a welder before his mental health breakdown.
Ironically, police shot dead Vassell’s best friend, Ortanzso (Marlon) Bovell, on a Brooklyn street in August 2008. That killing set Vassell on a downward spiral. The lieutenant who killed Bovell, shot in the back as he fled in an allegedly stolen vehicle, claimed that his gun fired by accident. But a jury in 2017 found that the shooting was intentional and awarded $2.5 million to Bovell’s family.
After the trauma of his friend’s death, Vassell was hospitalized several times and prescribed medications to treat bipolar disorder. “We were taking care of him, doing everything for him,” his mother, Lorna Vassell, stated.
He was known to be mentally ill but harmless by folks in the community and police officers assigned to the neighborhood, Andre Wilson, Vassell’s longtime friend told the New York Daily News.
His life ended when four officers — one in uniform, three plainclothes — fired at Vassell, in a hail of 10 bullets. They were responding to calls about a Black man with a gun. But it turned out that Vassell was holding a pipe. No firearm was found at the scene.
Officers didn’t try to diffuse the situation—not even warning Vassell to put down the object, a witness said.
“They just hopped out of the car. It’s almost like they did a hit. They didn’t say please. They didn’t say put your hands up, nothing,” stated witness Jaccbot Hinds.
43 Black Men And Boys Killed By Police
1. Anthony Lamar Smith, 24Source:Getty 1 of 46
2. Ramarley Graham, 18Source:Getty 2 of 46
3. Manuel Loggins Jr., 31Source:Getty 3 of 46
4. Trayvon Martin, 17Source:Getty 4 of 46
5. Wendell Allen, 20Source:Getty 5 of 46
6. Kendrec McDade, 19Source:Getty 6 of 46
7. Larry Jackson Jr., 32Source:Getty 7 of 46
8. Jonathan Ferrell, 24Source:Getty 8 of 46
9. Jordan Baker, 26Source:Getty 9 of 46
10. Victor White lll, 22Source:Getty 10 of 46
11. Dontre Hamilton, 31Source:Getty 11 of 46
12. Eric Garner, 43Source:Getty 12 of 46
13. John Crawford lll, 22Source:Getty 13 of 46
14. Michael Brown, 18Source:Getty 14 of 46
15. Ezell Ford, 25Source:Getty 15 of 46
16. Dante Parker, 36Source:Getty 16 of 46
17. Kajieme Powell, 25Source:Getty 17 of 46
18. Laquan McDonald, 17Source:Getty 18 of 46
19. Akai Gurley, 28Source:Getty 19 of 46
20. Tamir Rice, 12Source:Getty 20 of 46
21. Rumain Brisbon, 34Source:Getty 21 of 46
22. Jerame Reid, 36Source:Getty 22 of 46
23. Charly Keunang, 43Source:Getty 23 of 46
24. Tony Robinson, 19Source:Getty 24 of 46
25. Walter Scott, 50Source:Getty 25 of 46
26. Freddie Gray, 25Source:Getty 26 of 46
27. Brendon Glenn, 29Source:Getty 27 of 46
28. Samuel DuBose, 43Source:Getty 28 of 46
29. Christian Taylor, 19Source:Getty 29 of 46
30. Jamar Clark, 24Source:Getty 30 of 46
31. Mario Woods, 26Source:Getty 31 of 46
32. Quintonio LeGrier, 19Source:Getty 32 of 46
33. Gregory Gunn, 58Source:Getty 33 of 46
34. Akiel Denkins, 24Source:Getty 34 of 46
35. Alton Sterling, 37Source:Getty 35 of 46
36. Philando Castile, 32Source:Getty 36 of 46
37. Terrence Sterling, 31Source:Getty 37 of 46
38. Terence Crutcher, 40Source:Getty 38 of 46
39. Keith Lamont Scott, 43Source:Getty 39 of 46
40. Alfred Olango, 38Source:Getty 40 of 46
41. Jordan Edwards, 15Source:Getty 41 of 46
42. Stephon Clark, 2242 of 46
43. Danny Ray Thomas, 3443 of 46
44. DeJuan Guillory, 2744 of 46
45. DeJuan Guillory, 2745 of 46
46. DeJuan Guillory, 2746 of 46