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Sheriff: Man who beat mosque worker to death with shovel thought he was Julius Caesar’s descendent

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — A 59-year-old maintenance worker was fatally bludgeoned with a shovel Thursday morning by a man who burglarized a mosque near Sanford, Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said during a news conference.

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A woman who works at the Husseini Islamic Center on Hester Avenue, near North Ronald Reagan Boulevard, called 911 at about 8:45 a.m. to report that she discovered a man who was obviously injured and possibly dead, Lemma said.

Detectives said they discovered the body of the man, who also works security at the mosque, which also has a school, lying on a back patio.

Lemma initially told reporters that the suspect was being trained to replace the victim, and that there had recently been conflict between the pair.

But Lemma held a second news conference about an hour and a half later to say that detectives now believe the attack was completely random and that the suspect had no connection to the mosque.

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The sheriff said detectives discovered bizarre social media posts penned by the suspect hours earlier in which he claimed that he is the descendent of Julius Caesar, that the mosque is Caesar’s property and that he planned to come “to defend it -- even at the cost of murder.” The suspect was later identified as 38-year-old Ahmed Raslan.

He said the suspect also wrote radical letters to the National Guard and the Sanford Police Department.

Lemma said the suspect used a sign to scale a barbed wire fence before lobbing a propane tank through a window to break into the building. Lemma said the suspect then attacked the victim, who was the first person to encounter him.

Just before detectives entered the school, a woman notified them that she saw a man open the front gate later than it would have typically been opened, Lemma said. She said the man who opened the gate drove away in the victim’s minivan.

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Investigators said they discovered a pair of pants at the front door of the building, that tables had been moved about and that foldable chairs were “all over the place.” They also saw drops of blood on the floor.

They said the suspect had pulled the victim’s body to a back patio and hosed down the victim and patio, leaving the victim’s soaked shirt beside his body.

When asked if this was a hate crime, Lemma said he is not ruling anything out.

“He believed it was Caesar’s home, and he needed to protect it,” he said. “We believe he may have been deranged.”

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Lemma described the victim’s confrontation with the suspect as heroic, potentially preventing others from being harmed, as parents would have dropped off their children to the school at about 9 a.m.

Mahmood Dhalla, the mosque’s president, described the victim as “a gentleman and an amazing guy.”

“He’s going to be missed,” he said. “It’s so tragic that this happened.”

An alert was issued for the vehicle, which was spotted in Indian River County shortly after 1:15 p.m.

Indian River County deputies said they stopped the suspect in a Sam’s Club parking lot, where he got out of the van, speaking a different language.

They said he reached into his pocket and pointed his fingers toward deputies as if he were holding a gun.

Deputies said the man went back into the van and they shot him three times.

See video of the confrontation below (warning: graphic material):

Posted by Indian River County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, March 24, 2022

They said the man is undergoing surgery, but it is unknown if he will survive.

Neither man was publicly identified.

Lemma said he intends to charge the suspect with first-degree murder once he is extradited to Seminole County.

No one else was injured.

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Grief counselors have been made available to school employees and students.

Watch Channel 9 Eyewitness News live updates.

Watch the Indian River County sheriff give an update below:

IRCSO Sheriff Eric Flowers addresses the deputy-involved shooting in the Sam's parking lot in Vero Beach.

Posted by Indian River County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, March 24, 2022

See a map of the scene below.

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Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly, WFTV.com

Jason Kelly joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2014. He serves as the station's Digital Executive Producer.

Katlyn Brieskorn, WFTV.com

Katlyn Brieskorn is a Digital Assignment Editor at WFTV. She joined Channel 9 in July 2019.

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