NEW ORLEANS - A darker chapter unfolds in the life of a New Orleans man who was hailed as a hero in a national bestseller after Katrina.
Police believe the subject of the non-fiction account Zeitoun was plotting to have three people killed, including his ex-wife.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun may have been portrayed in Dave Eggers' book Zeitoun as a brave family man who was wrongly arrested in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But the 54-year-old is now behind bars for another reason.
New Orleans police said they received "credible information" Zeitoun was plotting to have his ex-wife, her boyfriend, and her son murdered. He was charged Wednesday with three counts of solicitation of murder.
Mary Claire Landry, director of Catholic Charities' Family Justice Center, said NOPD's domestic violence detectives at the Family Justice Center investigated the information and worked hard to intervene before the case took a turn for the worse.
"We really want to try to prevent these cases from ending up in a horrific murder situation," said Landry. "We were very glad we could assist from the beginning and before something tragic happened to this family."
Police records show, it's not the first time Zeitoun has been arrested in connection with alleged violence against his ex-wife.
July 25, witnesses at a nearby business said Kathy Zeitoun was leaving a real estate attorney's office near the corner of Prytania Street and Jackson Avenue and got into her car. That's when, according to witnesses, Zeitoun pulled up in the van for his painting contractor business, and smashed her windshield with a tire iron.
Charles Sterkx, who works near the scene of the incident, said that's when Kathy Zeitoun began to run.
Witnesses described the scene was shocking and surreal. Witnesses said Zeitoun chased his ex-wife, hitting her with a tire iron and choking her. Sterkx believes Kathy Zeitoun may have died if it wasn't for a Good Samaritan who came to herrescue, spraying Zeitoun with pepper spray.
Zeitoun's neighbors said they never would have believed he would attack his ex-wife until they saw Kathy Zeitoun's bruises last year.
Records show Kathy Zeitoun got a restraining order against her then husband after he was charged with domestic abuse battery last March.
Landry said this case shows no one is immune to domestic violence.
"In some of these situations a person's public persona is not always what is going on in their personal relationships and we see this all the time," said Landry.
Meanwhile, some bookstore owners were shocked. They believe the recent arrests could taint readers' perception of the book.
"It was very saddening. I mean, I had met Kathy and Abdulrahman when we did a big signing with them and the author, Dave Eggers, when the book first came out. And they were both very sweet, very humble people," said Britton Trice, owner of Garden District Book Shop. "Without getting inside another man's head, but to see someone turn to violence like that, it's just very upsetting. I do see how it's going to really affect sales of the book."
Trice noted the book has been a steady seller since it came out in 2009.
Director Jonathan Demme was considering making a movie adaptation of the book.
He and Eggers released this joint statement Thursday night:
"We are profoundly saddened by the recent events involving Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun. We have been in daily contact with Kathy since the incident on July 25. We are shocked by the new charges reported August 9 against Abdulrahman.
"Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of Kathy and the children. As the investigation proceeds, we hope that you will join us in respecting the Zeitoun family’s privacy at this difficult time."
Zeitoun remains behind bars on $999,000 bond for the solication of murder charges and $150,000 bond for charges stemming from the July 25th attack.