Early on the morning of Nov. 25, Mohammad Reza Shamstabrizi, a 21-year-old Iranian student, pulled the nylon shoelaces from his battered wrestling shoes, tied them end to end and then hanged himself from the bars of the Oklahoma City jail.
It was an act that, on the face of it, hardly seemed warranted by the circumstances. He had been in jail only 15 minutes, charged with trying to steal an auto battery from a Sears store. He had not appeared emotionally distressed when jail personnel processed him minutes before, and an autopsy turned up no evidence that he had been physically mistreated by police or his jailers.
Yet, to many of those who knew Shamstabrizi, a junior at a local university, the suicide seems less a mystery than something tragically inevitable, as if Shamstabrizi were some star-crossed Shakespearean character.
He had been born to a prominent Iranian family, the son of a senior general in the Shah's army. He was a young man whose future seemingly was assured.
By the time he was arrested, all that had vanished in the smoke of the Iranian revolution. His father was dead, executed without a trial at the whim of a radical mullah. His family's wealth and possessions had been stripped away. As for himself, he was reduced to living in isolation and near poverty as a student in America, a land where it seemed as if all Iranians, no matter what their politics, no longer were welcome.
"He was alone inside," said a fellow Iranian student at Oklahoma City University. "He was quiet all the time. You could see from the expression on his face that there was something wrong and that he was suffering."
Shamstabrizi, the oldest of four children, came to the United States in 1977, two years before the revolution. For the first few months here, he studied English. Then, in the spring of 1978, he enrolled at Oklahoma City University.
When the shah fled Iran nine months later. Mohammad's father, Gen. Gholam Hossein Shamstabrizi, commander of an important oil region army unit, was quickly forced into retirement by the Moslem clerics who had taken control of the revolution.
In the months that followed, the family's wealth and possessions were confiscated, friends say, though the family was allowed to live in its Tehran home. The general's retirement pay also was cut off, leaving the family without an income.
"One day [Mohammad] told me, 'I know they're going to kill my father,' said a childhood friend. "He told me that, when he talked with his father, his father told him, 'I am waiting in the house for the Khomeini people to come and get me.'"
In April 1979, his father was arrested at his home. For a while, he was held in a Tehran jail, but after a month he was transferred to a jail in Khuzestan, friends say.
"[Ayatollah Sadegh] Khalkhali came to the jail and asked about the prisoners," said one close family friend who had been jailed with the general in Khuzestan. "The guards said they were all just military men and had done nothing wrong."
Khalkhali, known for his penchant for the death penalty, ordered them all executed, anyway. "So they took them out and lined them against the wall," the friend said. "They did not tie them up. Some tried to hide behind others, but they shot them all anyway."
Mohammad's mother refused to call her son to tell him of his father's death, because she was afraid his own life might be in danger if he returned, his childhood friend said.
But when he heard the news from others a week later, Shamstabrizi sold everything so he could buy a plane ticket and return to Tehran. He stayed two months, returning to Oklahoma only because it had been one of the last wishes of his father.
It was a changed young man who resumed his studies, his longtime friend said.
"I never heard from him again," she said. "He did not call me or write me or [his other best friend], and he moved. He did not have a telephone, so we could not find him. Once I heard he had gone to California to join a group fighting Khomeini, but I could not believe it."
According to a campus friend, Shamstabrizi worked part time at a restaurant and spent the rest of the time studying. He was a good student, the friend said. His only major possession was an old car.
At 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 24, an Oklahoma City police officer responded to a silent alarm inside a Sears automotive center and found Shamstabrizi inside, according to a police official.
"By his own statement, he was attempting to obtain a battery for his vehicle," the official said.
He was booked and taken to the city jail for the night, where he was to be held until a bond hearing the next morning. Fifteen minutes after he was admitted to the jail at 3:07 a.m., guards found his body hanging from the bars in the shower area.
He had $30 in his checking account and $6 in his savings account at the time, officials said.
Shamstabrizi's suicide has touched a deeply personal chord among Iranian expatriots, both in the United States and abroad. Within days, even though few accounts of the young man's death had appeared in the media outside Oklahoma, most who remembered or had known his father had heard the news.
"I see my own sons when I see him," said a former high-ranking Iranian military officer, who was a friend of the family and now lives in the Washington area. "The young people always seem to pay for our folly."