By David Fleet
Lt. Jeff Neville recalls the knife thrusting twice in the back of his neck.
“It was rage,” recalled Neville, an Atlas Township resident. “He then started screaming in Arabic. I realized at that point I was not just being attacked, but being attacked by a terrorist.”
Neville, was the police officer who was stabbed in the neck several times during an attack at Flint Bishop International Airport on June 21.
According to a statement from the FBI, law enforcement officers from a number of organizations including the FBI’s Flint office, responded to the airport after receiving the report of the stabbing of an airport police officer.
The FBI identified the suspect as Amor M. Ftouhi, 49, of Quebec, Canada.
Special Agent Thomas M. Sodgeroth said in an affidavit that Ftouhi used a large knife with a green handle and a black serrated blade to stab Neville at the airport. Specifically, the officer who witnessed the attack said Ftouhi walked up to Neville, a fully-uniformed police officer, at a publicly accessible area of the airport, yelled “Allahu Akbar,” pulled out a knife and stabbed the officer in the neck.
After stabbing Neville, Ftouhi continued to yell “Allah” several times. He further exclaimed something similar to, “you have killed people in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”
“Allahu Akbar,” translates to “Allah is the greatest.”
Ftouhi is facing charges of one count of violence at an international airport and interference with airport security. He faces the potential of life in prison if convicted. A trial is set for Jan. 18, 2018. An indictment is only a charge and not evidence of guilt. Officials said Ftouhi, entered the United States legally from Canada. He was living in Montreal, but entered the U.S. on June 16 in New York.
Since the attack, Neville has recovered from his wounds and participated in several community events. Recently, he was named honorary Martian Football captain at the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic at Atwood Stadium on Aug. 24.
Neville, is a 1980 Grand Blanc High School graduate and joined the Genesee County Sheriff Department in 1982. Over the next 20 years he served in the Genesee County Jail, Flint Area Narcotics Group and courts. He had been an officer at BIA since 1999.
Last week, Neville, 55, reflected on the past months following the attack.
“Rich was the real hero,” said Neville.
Richard Krul is the Bishop Airport maintenance man who assisted Neville in subduing Ftouhi during the attack.
“I was on my hands and knees bleeding and I said, ‘Rich, Rich, man you’re a hero. I called him from the hospital that same day and told him that. That’s not his job. The way Rich grabbed that guy you would not believe it.”
Ftouhi was not a big guy—but fit, recalls Neville.
“He was strong,” he said. “He hit me (with the knife) pushing me forward. When Rich pulled him back I started yelling then spun around and grabbed his wrist. Some people asked why I did not shoot him (Ftouhi). They don’t understand we are in close quarter combat and I was bleeding profusely from my neck. Rich was holding on to him—we were just trying to contain and control the situation.”
There was a big puddle of blood, said Neville.
“I did not know the blood was from me,” he said. “Not until I saw that big knife on the ground. I tried to block his wrist until my chief and the fire lieutenant got there. They were one room away. I felt pretty good and did not feel weak—not until I stood up. I kept restraining him until they got handcuffs on him and they said, ‘Jeff you can let go now,’ I did not think they had him.”
I told them to apply pressure on wound, said Neville.
“I was still watching passengers coming up the escalators toward me as I was bleeding,” he said. “Then the (airport) firefighters EMTs got there, it seems like a long time. At that point I knew I was cut. I don’t know if I would have been as calm if I would have seen the wound. The next day at the hospital someone showed me a picture.”
With a Michigan State Police escort they transported Neville to Hurley Medical Center in record time, he said.
“They got me from the emergency room to surgery in what seemed like minutes,” he said. “I remember people saying, ‘hang in there Jeff’ when I was in the ER.”
According to news reports from Hurley Hospital, surgeons repaired a 12-inch “slash” that caused significant bleeding but spared major arteries and a nerve by “millimeters.” He was released from the hospital on June 26.
“For me, the thing that makes it different from any other police officer that gets hurt in the line of duty, it was a case of international terrorism and I survived, “ he said. “I never thought in my wildest dream that would happen to me. As a trained law enforcement officer your head is suppose to be on a swivel.”
“Never had anything like this that happened for me,” he said. “Not even close.”
No animosity, says Neville.
“I don’t hate that man,” he said. “I don’t have time for it. I’ve been thinking about it, it’s bigger then me, there’s too much hate going on. That man would want me to hate him, he wanted to die that day. He wanted to be a martyr. He attacked me because I was a symbol of America—a symbol of American authority, not Jeff Neville as a person.”
“He wanted to take my gun and kill other police officers,” he said. “He wanted us to kill him, now he gets to face our justice system. The FBI has a victims rights program they keep me advised of the case.. I’m invited to go to any court appearance—but I have not went. I’ll go only if I’m subpoenaed but there’s no reason to go. They (terrorist) are trying to generate a reaction and I’m not buying into that. They got the wrong guy. I’m going the other way.”
Neville has not spoken to Ftouhi since the attack but does have a message for him.
“I’m praying for him,” he said. “That’s what you are suppose to do—pray for your enemies. But he’s not my enemy. I’m not lucky I’m blessed. There was no way any of this would have happened without God’s intervention.”
Neville has not yet returned to work but continues to receive local recognition.
“There’s really been an outreach effort from the Islamic community,” he said. “It was not necessary for me but they did a fundraiser for me. “
Following the attack the Muslim community in Flint condemned the attack and honored Neville at the Flint Islamic Center. Dr. Jondy, the President of the Flint Islamic Center and trauma surgeon at Hurley Medical Center visited Neville in the hospital the day after the attack. In July the Flint Islamic Center presented him with a check for $10,000 at their mosque.
About two weeks after the attack the American Muslim Law Enforcement Officers of New York and New Jersey gathered in the airport to show their support and present a plaque to Neville and Krul.
“The Islamic police officer wanted me to know that it could just as easily been them,” he said. “ When these attacks are made they are not checking name tags. They really felt bad and they wanted me to know they are together as bothers and sisters.”
At noon, Sept. 14, Neville will receive an legislative tribute from the Michigan House of Representative.
“Lt. Jeff Neville is a true American hero,” said Rep. Joe Graves, (R-51st)
“Without regard to his own life, and after getting stabbed, he refused to stop fighting because he knew that if the terrorist wasn’t stopped, innocent civilians would be killed. That is why he will be my guest in Lansing and will be honored.”