Shooting at IHOP in Newark turns American dream into nightmare
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The red-shirted waiters hustled from table to table, serving 30 customers who briskly ordered pancakes and burgers, griddle melts and sodas. Patrons, meanwhile, reached past the gold-colored coffee urns and lifted up bottles of sweetly familiar syrup: strawberry and butter pecan, blueberry and old-fashioned.
It was 2:40 in the morning, a little over a week ago, at the busy IHOP on Bergen Street in Newark, the sole outpost of the chain-style restaurant that can be found in the crime-ridden and stubbornly progressing city.
Papa Khaly Ndiaye, a hardworking and friendly soul who’d immigrated to the U.S. from Senegal, was managing this early Saturday morning. Recently, he’d married the woman of his dreams at a quick but heartfelt ceremony at New York’s City Hall. And around that same time, he’d landed the job he’d long been hoping for, too: running the show at a large and well-kept IHOP that sits just 80 yards from the city’s bustling University Hospital.
Then two groups of customers walked in. And unbeknown to Ndiaye and his wait staff, there were raw feelings simmering between them. Two women, one from each group, were ex-lovers whose breakup was still fresh and volatile, say a waiter and two police officers.
This is the story of impulsive violence unleashed on Newark yet again with seemingly little provocation — this time inside a popular IHOP that, just a year ago, decided not to replace an armed security guard it had once posted. It’s also the story of a beloved Senegalese immigrant who left behind a powerful and politically connected family in Africa to prove he could carve out a grounded and successful life in America — on his own — and who through hard work and kindness, say friends and relatives, did just that.
Ndiaye, who was 30, would not walk away alive from his night of work on Saturday, March 23. Instead, he’d become the victim of a gun blast never intended for him. Two others also would be shot in the eruption of violence — though fortunately not killed. Meanwhile, the gunman is still on the loose, say police, who are now offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
LOVE OF HER LIFE
Accompanied by her grieving parents, Ndiaye’s wife, Lisa, is standing near the door of her modest house, not far from piles of firewood lying by the windows. It’s just five days after the IHOP tragedy struck and took away her husband — and she’s sobbing, yes.
But she’s also flashing soft smiles built on fond memories. She’s clad from head to toe in an ink-black traditional dress and head covering, out of respect for her husband’s Muslim faith.
“He was the most amazing person I have ever met,” she says, while recalling, too, how her husband was a consummate gentleman, always wanting to open the door for her wherever she went. And he worked such long hours at his job, she adds, “so I didn’t have to.”
The New Jersey native, with a slight build and large brown eyes, speaks tenderly of Papa Khaly Ndiaye. “I guarantee I will never come across anyone like him again in my life.”
Respectfully — and wistfully — Lisa Ndiaye, 22, talks about her late husband’s compelling life story. It’s a story that Newark Mayor Cory Booker said should serve as an inspiration to other immigrants.
“This is a gentleman that worked up from the bottom of that (IHOP) establishment, working in the kitchen, earning respect,” Booker said. “He was what we want in the United States.”
Lisa explains that her husband — a practicing Muslim whom people also knew as Mohammed Sy — grew up as the oldest son of an established, political family in Senegal. His mother, say published reports and government news releases, is the mayor of a town in the northwest part of the county.
What’s more, Papa Khaly Ndiaye’s mother, Aminata Mbengue Ndiaye, is also a member of the national parliament and has served in at least two ministry positions. Some also say that she has been at the forefront of the country’s women’s rights movement.
But Lisa Ndiaye says her late husband simply wanted to come to America, build a life of his own and “prove he could do it without the money that he grew up with.”
So after arriving in the United States some 12 years ago, Lisa says, her husband moved from job to job — working for several years at the Newark IHOP. He left briefly to work at an inbound call center for AT&T, where she was working, too, and soon they began dating. Then about two months ago, he returned to the IHOP to become manager.
He worked so many hours over the weekends at IHOP that they would only see each other when she drove to Newark to bring him a change of clothes, Lisa says. Her eyes tearing, she adds: “He was a genuine person. He didn’t deserve this.”
The two large groups strolled into the IHOP not even five minutes apart early on March 23, the IHOP waiter on the scene that night recalled recently. The waiter asked for anonymity because he said he’s not sure how commenting to the press might affect his job.
One group that entered was a collection of 13 men and women; the other an all-female table of six, he said.
Two police sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the case publicly, said last week that as soon as the groups encountered each other near the IHOP entrance, angry words started to fly between two women who, the two officers said, were former lovers.
But soon, the waiter recalled, the groups were seated at tables or booths not far from each other, amid a slew of other patrons who, like them, were mostly 20- and 30-somethings. Many of the customers at IHOP that night, he added, had dropped in to eat after a night of bar or club hopping.
Even as soul music played softly from the overhead speakers, the waiter said, it didn’t take long for the tension in the air to grow. Soon, one man from the group of 13 walked over to the all-women table and started hitting on them, aggressively.
“He was trying to get their phone numbers,” the waiter said, “but they weren’t having it.” They all made clear they weren’t interested in the man and wanted to be left alone, he said.
Next, he recalled, the man, who was nearly 6 feet tall and muscular, “gets upset” and “starts arguing with women.” At the same time, full of bravado, he also claimed that he was a cop and that “I got money” and that he can do things for them with his money if they date him, the waiter said.
The situation escalated quickly, he went on, as a friend from the man’s group of 13 jumped into the argument. Motioning at one woman, he said, “It’s all right, she ain’t no lesbian — I was just having an affair with her.”
In turn, the waiter said, the largest of the six women stood up in anger — apparently ready to fight.
The first man to approach their table — who the waiter said appeared to be drunk — was egged on even more. “I’ll punch you in the face!” he yelled at the woman who was standing.
In just moments, said the waiter, some members of both groups started shoving each other as more people entered the fray. And then some of the combatants started heading toward IHOP’s front doors.
It was around that time, said the waiter, that Papa Khaly Ndiaye — the ever-watchful manager — stepped in to try to force the larger group of 13 out of the restaurant.
But before he could, the waiter recalled, the drunken man who had first approached the women pushed one to the floor violently. In the same moments, a man in a hoodie quickly came walking into the vestibule from outside. The waiter believes he was called there during the fray by one of the women in the party of six; and one police officer said someone among the two groups made a call urging others to the scene.
Highly agitated, and motioning with his arms, the man in the hoodie challenged the aggressive man from the larger group to come out to where he was standing. And he seemed to be baiting him, repeating over and over again, “Come outside; come outside; just come outside,” the waiter recalled. Instinctively, and fearing the worst, the waiter said he, Papa Khaly Ndiaye and a cook all tried to hold the man back.
But then “he pushes my hand down,” the waiter said of the man from the group of 13, “and then he’s like, ‘I got this, I got this’ — and then he starts walking out. I go to open the door … and I hear ‘pop, pop,’?” said the waiter, speaking of gunshots he believes the man in the hoodie fired in turn.
The waiter added that he believes the man who stepped outside got hit with a bullet, but survived. At the same moment, though, Papa Khaly Ndiaye, still struggling with the man who forced his way out of the doors into danger, apparently got a caught in the gunfire, too, the waiter said. But he was not as lucky.
“I looked back and just see (my manager) sliding down the door and onto the ground,” the waiter recalled, his voice choking now. “And I heard three more shots. But it looked like he (the shooter) wasn’t even looking at who he was shooting at. He just put his hand over the rail, and he was shooting.”
Police say two people, in addition to the manager, were also shot, but officials would not identify them.
Both Booker and the waiter say the IHOP manager was shot in the head, leading to his death just a few hours later. The waiter, who received counseling at IHOP two days later, also said — with pain in his voice — that he is still haunted by the image of his friendly manager, whom he loved like a “brother,” slumping at the doorway with a gaping bullet wound at the back of his head.
SECURITY IN QUESTION
Police have released a grainy, somewhat dark image of a man caught on tape by a surveillance camera at IHOP. Meanwhile, it appeared a candlelight vigil took place for Papa Khaly Ndiaye outside the restaurant on Thursday. Near 7 p.m., six votive candles sat by an outside wall, two of them lit with flames flickering in the wind. And the body of Papa Khaly Ndiaye, once a fit-looking, round-faced man with a wide smile, was flown back to his native Senegal last week.
And in the days since the killing of the Senegalese immigrant with the strong work ethic and gentlemanly ways, questions have been raised about whether or not IHOP should have had a paid security guard on hand. At one time, IHOP paid a special resource officer trained by the Newark Police Department to serve as an armed guard inside the restaurant, said Sgt. Ronald Glover, a city police spokesman. But that officer found another job last May, and IHOP had not replaced him, Glover added.
Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio made his feelings clear last week, saying, “Having an officer there on the night of this incident certainly could have deterred this from happening.”
But Craig Hoffman, a corporate spokesman for IHOP, said the restaurant had security measures in place, though he declined to say what they were. Since the fatal shot was fired outside the restaurant, Hoffman said, IHOP was not responsible for security there.
Meanwhile, City Councilman Ras Baraka, of the South Ward, last week called for the council to draft an ordinance that would create a “public-private partnership” to fund armed security at Newark restaurants that stay open late into the night.
Still, all of that is little comfort now to Lisa Ndiaye, who recalled from her home in central New Jersey the first date she ever had with him: They went to a Portuguese restaurant near Newark-Penn Station, where a previously “secretive”-seeming Papa Khaly Ndiaye opened up to her, revealing the winding journey that had launched him from a comfortable life in Senegal to the exhausting, endless work days he tackled in New Jersey.
She is praying, she said, that someone steps forward to help find the man who gunned down her husband. Still, an arrest will not bring her peace, she said.
Tears streaming down her pale, expressive face, Lisa Ndiaye said of her slain husband, “Anyone who met him was blessed.”
Posted by Admin on Sunday, March 31st, 2013 @ 10:10PM
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