Jun 20, 2004

After Beheading, Rising Anger in New Jersey

This is only going to get worse...

New York Times
June 20, 2004

After Beheading, Rising Anger in New Jersey

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J., June 19 - There are the flowers and the crosses, the notes and the photographs and all the other signs of sympathy and grieving that one would expect to find at an impromptu shrine devoted to someone murdered in a most cruel fashion.

But one day after graphic photographs of the body of Paul M. Johnson Jr., beheaded by Islamic extremists, were beamed around the world, a new sign appeared in the yard next to the house of Mr. Johnson's sister in Little Egg Harbor Township.

"Last night my heart was filled with love and prayers, but today it is filled with hatred. Last night I was not a racist, but today I feel racism toward Islamic beliefs," the sign said. "Last night Islamics had a chance to speak up for Paul Johnson, but today it was too late," it also said. "Today Islamics better wake up and start thinking about tomorrow."

The sentiment reflected in the sign was not shared by everyone in the southern New Jersey community where Mr. Johnson had grown up, but it was shared by several people interviewed over the past few days.

Muslim officials around the state, and the world, were quick to condemn the killing and offer their sympathy to Mr. Johnson's family.

A week ago, when Mr. Johnson was kidnapped in Saudi Arabia, where he worked as an engineer for Lockheed Martin, there was a great deal of hope among friends that everything would work out.

On Tuesday, when the terrorists put out a video saying they would execute Mr.. Johnson in 72 hours if their demands were not met, the situation took on added urgency and people turned to prayer.

About 100 friends gathered Thursday night for a candlelight vigil. Friday they found out that their prayers had not been answered.

"A lot of people are angry, a lot of people are sad and a lot of people are hurt," said Dennis C. Seeley Jr., a chaplain for the Eagleswood Fire Company.. Mr. Seeley, who helped organize the vigil, had the same exhausted look as others in the town.

John Hayes, a childhood friend of Mr. Johnson's, said: "I just can't believe it. I didn't think it was going to come to this." Mr. Hayes said he was sad for Mr. Johnson's son, Paul III, and his grandson, Paul IV, who live in Florida.

Mr. Johnson's family spent most of their time in private, grieving.

Joseph Billy Jr., an F.B.I. agent who spoke on the family's behalf, said, "They knew that the odds were not in the favor of law enforcement." He thanked the Saudi and American governments and said, "Paul considered Saudi Arabia his home."

Some neighbors did not hide their anger, saying privately that blood should be met with blood.

Khalid Masood Butt, 51, president of the Pakistani American Muslim Organization of South Jersey, said, "This is understandable as the people react and they are under the influence of emotions." He said he wanted to offer the family support. "But I wondered about how I would be received. Now I feel I should have done it. As an American, as a Muslim, it is my duty to give them the concepts of being a Muslim."

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