By Miranda Lin
Masud Rahman arrived at his home at 395 Warwick Street in East New York, Brooklyn early Tuesday morning to discover that it had been gutted by a two-alarm fire just after midnight. Over 100 firefighters were called, according to reports, and they needed nearly an hour to put out the blaze. Rahman’s first thoughts when he arrived were of the clothes and cash that would surely be destroyed and his pet cat and bird that were trapped inside his room. But he soon discovered that he had lost much more than that.
Shahab Uddin, a 46-year-old Bengali man who Rahman had been sharing the two-story stone-tiled house with since the summer, was found by rescue crews inside the house, his body charred and his limbs tied together. The cause of death and the motive for the crime have not yet been determined.
East New York has earned a reputation as one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods with over 2,000 cases of violent crime recorded this year, but the details of this incident startled the residents of this quiet tree-lined street. “This is a good block,” said one onlooker who asked not to be named. “The rest of the neighborhood isn’t, but I actually raised all three of my kids in the house that got burned down and they played on the streets with all the other kids.” Another neighbor who lives two doors down from the scene of the fire added, “We don’t have much crime; we take care of each other around here.”
They described Uddin as a shy man who kept to himself and spent most of his days wandering up and down the street looking for cigarettes, sometimes even picking them off the ground to smoke, and only occasionally stopping on the corners to chat. Neither knew of anyone who had a grudge against Uddin and guessed that he was the unfortunate victim of a random act of violence perpetrated by local thugs. “Some people around here just like to pick on the weak and don’t need much more of a reason than that,” said the onlooker.
Though the police have remained tight-lipped as they continue to investigate, Uddin’s small circle of friends is struggling to understand what led to his death. “They’re saying they found him in the living room and his legs were tied. Can you imagine another human doing that?” asked Rahman as he sat hunched next to his burnt-out home. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.” Rahman met Uddin while the two were working at Papa John’s Pizza in Rockaway, but Uddin had been unemployed for some time since. Nonetheless, Rahman’s girlfriend, Mahbuba Shahrin, remembers the short, heart-faced man as the “sweetest guy in the world. If you ever needed anything, he would get up in the middle of the night just to get it for you.”
She and Rahman would often bring Uddin food and listen to him tell stories about his “daily hustle.” Uddin also told them about coming to America from Bangladesh, how he traveled through South America and California before settling in New York City almost 25 years ago. “He was like Huck Finn,” Shahrin said, a weak smile breaking through her otherwise somber face. “He had so many adventures all around the world.”
Shahrin recalls hearing him speak about living several years ago in Long Island with his wife, but the eventual divorce had left with almost no money and caused him to fall into depression and alcoholism. She was unsure if he had any other family in the area. “I have to figure that out now and call his family,” said Shahrin as her voice tightened. “I just don’t know how I’m going to tell them about this.”