Sandra Hood shown with her son Najib. Photo: Sandra Hood family.
A Ugandan who works at the United Nations is searching for answers after her 29-year-old son was found dead in a Manhattan hotel room last week.
The son had struggled with alcohol in the past as many young people often do but had taken control of his life in the last two years by going to rehab and attending AA. He also held two jobs in White Plains. The mother described him as very intelligent and says even though he’d dropped out of studying engineering at Texas Tech years ago, he’d been a straight-A student. He’d graduated high school with a 4.0 average, she says.
But Najib Hood’s life came to an end on Aug. 29, three day before his 30th birthday. He was found dead reportedly of an overdose in a room at Casablanca Hotel in Harlem, according to police.
The mother, Sandra Hood, who works at the United Nations in the Finance Global Monitoring and Advisory Team, disputes the account of her son’s death provided to her by New York Police Department (NYPD) detective Elizabeth Tavera of the 30 precinct. She says when they met, Det. Tavera was rude and didn’t have the courtesy of inviting her into her office but spoke in the hallway. “She said ‘did you know your son had a drug problem? He was found with multiple needle marks on his right arm,’”Ms. Hood recalls.
Ms. Hood says her son didn’t take drugs but struggled with alcoholism in the past. She also pointed out that Najib was right handed and wondered how he’d inject himself in his right arm. “She told me that’s a good question, but one for the medical examiner,” she says. Ms. Hood says Det. Tavera told her there would be no investigation since the medical examiner, John Hayes, had concluded Najib had died of a drug overdose. Hayes later phoned Ms. Hood and told her the same thing.
Ms. Hood says the NYPD’s version of events did not add up. Why would Najib Hood suddenly resort to drugs? Najib held two restaurant jobs in White Plains, one with the Melting Pot, and had recently told her he’d been promoted to supervising other employees. He also had a girlfriend. (Through Ms. Hood, the girlfriend said she’s too distraught to be interviewed for this report).
The alcohol problem was severe and in 2017 it led to a brush with the law. But by all accounts Najib had turned his life around.
So how did Najib end up dead in a room in the Casablanca?
The people who reported his death to the police hold the keys to the mystery.
Ms. Hood says Det. Tevera told her surveillance camera shows Najib checking into the hotel on Aug. 27 with a couple, a white male and a female. She said Tevera told her: “‘He checked in the hotel with the two people and he overdosed himself and the two people with him called the police. By the time the police arrived he was dead.”
Ms. Hood says when she asked the detective whether the couple’s role in Najib’s death was being investigated, “She told me they had nothing to do with my son’s death.”
Det. Tevera provided the name of the male who made the 911 caller, as Jordan Samha. The detective declined to identify the white woman, Ms. Hood says. Tevera also told her police had not recovered Najib’s wallet, his cell phone, his car key, his house keys and his Apple watch. Ms. Hood says she will find out this week about any possible activities on her son’s bank cards.
There are many unanswered questions. Najib lived with his mother. When he didn’t come home from his restaurant job Friday, she kept calling his phone on Saturday but it was off. She went to his work place Sunday but his colleagues also didn’t know his whereabouts. His girlfriend also hadn’t heard from him since Friday night.
Najib’s car, a 2017 white Infiniti, was parked in a nearby garage on a basement level. The car wasn’t locked. Najib’s gym bag was in the car. There were books on the drivers seat. His kick-boxing gear, including gloves, were in the trunk. There was a bottle of Gatorade on top of the car as if someone placed it there and was interrupted before entering the vehicle. Ms. Hood took photographs of the car.
By Tuesday Najib hadn’t surfaced. His manager spoke with Ms. Hood and both shared their concerns. One of her other sons, Nafi, called the NYPD while Ms. Hood called Pelham Police. Finally, the NYPD gave the family the bad news about Najib’s death that Tuesday night. Pelham police officers also came over to their residence and said the NYPD would investigate the case.
On Wednesday Ms. Hood went to Manhattan to meet Det. Tevera. While she was away, two visitors showed up at her home.
Her other sons, Nash and Nafi, were home when they heard the door bell ring. When Nash opened the door he was facing a male whom he later described as Arab looking and a white woman. The couple looked disheveled. They told the brothers that they were the last to see Najib alive and were the ones to call police. They wanted to share a story. It’s unclear how they found out the address unless they were in possession of his driver’s license. They also said they didn’t know what happened to Najib’s wallet, cell phone, car key, house keys, and Apple watch. They suggested the NYPD could have them.
The couple claimed they knew Najib through AA meetings. They claimed they hadn’t traveled to Manhattan together but “bumped” into him in the city on Aug. 27. They all then checked into the Casablanca.
The couple then provided an implausible account of what happened on the fateful Sunday.
According to the couple, four other people entered their hotel room that Sunday morning. These four unidentified people then tried to force Najib to overdose on drugs. The couple claimed they even “fought” with the four people to protect Najib from overdosing.
The couple said they decided to leave the room to go get breakfast. They said when they returned, they found Najib alone in the room, dead. They then called the police.
Ms. Hood says her son Nafi became angry and accused the couple of killing Najib. The couple left Ms. Hood’s house and started walking toward the Pelham Metro North station accompanied by Nafi. The other son, Nash, called Ms. Hood and told her what was going on. She told him to follow his brother.
When the group reached the Metro North station, Ms. Hood asked to speak with Samha on Nash’s phone. She then asked Samha to call her back on her own phone and she was able to capture his phone number.
Samha and the unidentified white woman then claimed they had no money and asked Nafi to buy them train tickets to Grand Central Station. Nafi purchased two tickets. Then, as they left, Samha reached into his pocket, pulled out a key and gave it to Nash.
It was Najib Hood’s car key. Did this mean they were also in possession of the other items? What was their true motive in coming over to Najib’s home? Did they believe it was an empty apartment–now that Najib was dead–that they could rob?
The car, as of today, is still in the garage. When Ms. Hood showed the pictures to the White Plains police, an officer pointed out what appeared to a blood stain on the hood. The White Plains police called the NYPD about the car. They were told by NYPD that Ms. Hood could remove the car since Najib’s death wasn’t considered a crime.