HOUSTON — The man who authorities say randomly shot at drivers in a Houston neighborhood, injuring nine before he was fatally shot by officers, seemingly did his best to not stand out, according to friends and neighbors.
Nathan DeSai, a lawyer whom police identified Tuesday as the gunman, was described as polite, quiet and someone who kept mostly to himself, though he also sang and played guitar for a rock cover band years ago. A friend who had worked with him as a prosecutor in Dallas said that a few years after 9/11, DeSai changed his first name from Niren so it would sound more American and he could blend in. According to naturalization records, DeSai was born in India and became an U.S. citizen in 1989.
In the weeks before Monday’s shooting at the entrance to the southwest Houston condo complex, the normally inconspicuous 46-year-old began to draw attention to himself. He was accused of pointing an assault-style rifle at roofers working in the complex and sending an email to the complex’s managers in which he said he would “intimidate his way” to ensuring water pressure problems at his unit were fixed. His father said that DeSai was worried that his new law practice was not going well; his longtime law firm had closed in February due to economic conditions.
But those who knew or interacted with DeSai, as well as authorities, still were trying to determine Tuesday what prompted DeSai to lash out so violently.
Authorities have said DeSai was wearing military-style apparel with old Nazi emblems and had two weapons and more than 2,500 rounds of live ammunition. Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva said police are still reviewing the significance of the Nazi emblems.
“He seemed like a pretty normal guy to me. He wasn’t like an angry person or vicious,” said defense attorney Michael Lowe, who had worked with DeSai in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office about 14 years ago.
Lowe said that he, DeSai and another prosecutor had a cover band called “Brain Clouds” that would play at bars, clubs and parties.
“He was a very good guitar player. He could also sing really well,” Lowe said.
In 2001, DeSai moved back to Houston, where he had grown up. There, he changed his first name from Niren to Nathan. Lowe said he asked DeSai why.
“He told me … with all the sort of Muslim hatred in the country (after 9/11) he didn’t want to be associated with anything like that. He didn’t want a foreign-sounding name,” said Lowe, adding that he didn’t know anything about DeSai’s religious background.
Around 2004 or so, DeSai started a law practice in Houston with Kenneth McDaniel after the two met at the courthouse. According to court records, DeSai handled a variety of criminal cases, including theft, assault and drug possession.
“It went very well. It was a typical law practice. You have good years and bad years,” McDaniel told The Associated Press on Monday.
But McDaniel said in February he and DeSai decided to close their 12-year-old law firm due to economic conditions related to Houston’s energy industry downturn.
DeSai’s father told KPRC-TV that his son had started his own law practice but it wasn’t doing well.
“He was worried … because his law practice was not running good, so he (was) worried about this all the time,” Prakash DeSai said.
A woman who answered the phone Tuesday at Prakash DeSai’s home said he was not available and hung up.
Jennifer Stone, 54, who also lives in DeSai’s condo complex, described him as someone who was kind and also “very to himself.” DeSai had lived at the complex since at least 2004, according to property records.
“There were no warning signs that there was going to be anything like this,” she said.
Associated Press writer Michael Graczyk contributed to this report.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70