In the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, hundreds of friends and family members of Bijan C. Ghaisar gathered in a candlelight vigil Thursday night to express their grief and shock at the sudden loss of a peaceful, fun-loving young man at the hands of the U.S. Park Police last month.
“My heart is shattered with sorrow and pain,” said Sima Marvastian, a close friend of Ghaisar, as quiet sobs racked the crowd. “For you my Bijan, I will work hard to put my anger away. Because you are full of love and forgiveness. That is your way. The memories I have with you will always follow me on my way…the dances and laughter we shared in so many ways will always be alive, day after day.”
Childhood buddies from his neighborhood in McLean, Va., lacrosse teammates from high school, fraternity brothers from college and longtime friends from the large Persian community in Northern Virginia all told stories of Ghaisar’s bright and outspoken personality, his love of the New England Patriots and chicken wings, his mischievousness and sense of social justice. They said he would have promptly posted his outrage on Facebook over the shooting of an unarmed man by the police, if the man hadn’t been him.
“Worrying about people who hate you,” Ghaisar recently wrote on Facebook, “is like cheating on those who love you. Don’t waste your energy. #Rise.” But he also wrote, “Halloween, to me, has always just been a good excuse to slam back some Reese’s cups like Tic Tacs.”
“The turnout you see here,” said Alidad Mafinezam, president of the West Asia Council, “is attributable to who he is, who he was, how popular and loved his family are in the community. The other side of it is the way in which he died. The combination has brought out all these people,” he said, surrounded by a large crowd of mourners between the Reflecting Pool and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Ghaisar, 25, was shot three times in the head, his family said, after a short chase with Park Police in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County on Nov. 17. He died 10 days later. No explanation has been given for the shooting, which is being investigated by the FBI. His family said Ghaisar was unarmed.
A vigil was also scheduled for Los Angeles Thursday night, arranged by Ghaisar’s in-laws who live there and wanted to honor him as well, Ghaisar’s family said. In addition, a vigil was held at Virginia Commonwealth University on Sunday, where he was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and graduated in 2015 with a degree in accounting.
Ghaisar was born and raised in Northern Virginia, the youngest of James and Kelly Ghaisar’s two children. He worked as an accountant at his father’s firm and lived in Tysons Corner. He gathered friends easily, the speakers at his vigil made clear, both at VCU and at Langley High School, where he played both lacrosse and football.
“Bijan has left a remarkable impression on us,” said college fraternity brother Jeff Caesar. “His spread of joy. The way he carried himself in groups. The ability to make others feel as though they’re part of the crowd. As though they’re loved.”
The audience was asked to wear white and many came wearing t-shirts which read “We Are Bijan” or held signs with his photo on them. “He went to the Persian school, he had lots of friends,” said Bita Sadr, of Potomac, Md. “Nice kid, very friendly. Everybody loved him.”
Ghaisar was driving his hunter green Jeep Grand Cherokee, with the license plate “BIJAN,” on the George Washington Memorial Parkway on Nov. 17 when he reportedly was involved in an accident with another vehicle near Slaters Lane, Park Police said. No details have been released about the accident, including who was at fault and whether anyone was injured.
A lookout was broadcast for Ghaisar’s Jeep, and a Park Police officer spotted it heading south on the parkway and pursued it with flashing lights and siren on, a radio dispatch tape shows. As the vehicles continued on the parkway, a Fairfax County officer pulled in behind the Park Police vehicle, Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. said at a news conference this week. The officer activated his in-car video camera and captured much of the ensuing minutes, Roessler said.
The three vehicles apparently pulled off the parkway at West Boulevard Drive, and then headed west on Alexandria Avenue in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County. Ghaisar’s Jeep stopped near the intersection of Alexandria Avenue and Fort Hunt Road, possibly striking a stop sign, according to photos snapped by a local television news photographer.
While Ghaisar sat in the Jeep, two Park Police officers approached with their guns drawn, a witness told The Washington Post, and then opened fire. The Park Police would not say why one or both officers shot Ghaisar, or whether Ghaisar was armed.
Ghaisar survived on life support for 10 days at Inova Fairfax Hospital, which was also where he was born. He died on Nov. 27.
The Park Police, who have arrest powers in the Virginia counties outside Washington under Virginia law, initially led the investigation, then turned it over to the FBI. Both the Park Police and the FBI have declined to identify the officers involved in the shooting, provide a reason for the shooting, reveal how many times he was shot, or release the video of the shooting.
Fairfax Chief Roessler said Monday he wanted the FBI to release the video as soon as possible and not wait for the investigation to conclude, which could be many months. The video is the property of Fairfax police, since it was shot by one of their cameras, but Roessler said he would not release it until the FBI had completed their interviews of all participants and witnesses.
Ghaisar’s family made it clear that Thursday’s vigil was not a time to discuss the details of the shooting, though some comments included anger at the Park Police, who were monitoring the event on park grounds.
“Most of you knew my Bijan with a smile and kindness,” said his father, James C. Ghaisar. “And I know my Bijan’s big heart and big desire for making the world a better place to live for everybody. Although his life was unjustly, unfairly, untimely taken as an unarmed man, his dream of a peaceful world remains with us to fulfill. He was passionately anti-violence, and he cried for the most recent mass shooting…Be the change that you want to see in the world. That’s what my Bijan would want you to do.”