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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma man apparently uttered Arabic words during an attack in which he allegedly severed a co-worker's head, and had "some sort of infatuation with beheadings," but the killing appeared to have more to do with the man's suspension from his job than his recent conversion to Islam, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Alton Nolen, 30, could face the death penalty after being charged with first-degree murder in the attack Thursday that authorities say appears to have been an act of revenge for a co-worker's complaint that got him suspended.
The FBI also is investigating the attack, given Nolen's interest in beheadings and a recent surge in Middle East violence.
"There was some sort of infatuation with beheadings. It seemed to be related to his interest in killing someone that way," Cleveland County Prosecutor Greg Mashburn said. "Other than that, it seemed to be related to his being suspended earlier in the day."
Mashburn said the human resources department at the Vaughan Foods plant in Moore had suspended Nolen earlier Thursday after another co-worker, Traci Johnson, had complained she had had an altercation with Nolen "about him not liking white people."
"It had more to do with race rather than trying to convert people," Mashburn said. He said there was a "back and forth with Ms. Johnson and that led her to make a complaint to the HR department."
Mashburn said that after being suspended, Nolen retrieved a knife at home and "returned to get revenge." He had the knife in his shoe when he returned to the plant, according to a police affidavit.
Nolen walked into the plant's administrative office in suburban Oklahoma City and came across Colleen Hufford, 54. According to the prosecutor, Nolen attacked Hufford from behind, severing her head, before turning his attention to Johnson, 43. Nolen "cut her across the throat and left side of her face," and later told police he was attempting to behead her as well, the affidavit said. Johnson survived.
The company's chief operating officer, Mark Vaughan, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Oklahoma City, leveled a rifle at Nolen and fired, striking him once and stopping the attack.
Mashburn said he would "vigorously prosecute" the murder charge but that it was more appropriate to leave any questions about a possible terrorism component to federal investigators.
"It is my understanding he was using some Arabic terms during the attacks and that is one of the many reasons the FBI is involved at this point in time," Mashburn said.
The prosecutor also said it was "highly likely" that he would seek the death penalty against Nolen, but would confer first with Hufford's family.
Nolen's mother and sister posted a video message on Facebook over the weekend saying they were shocked and saddened by the allegations against him.
"My son was raised up in a loving home. My son was raised up believing in God," his mother, Joyce Nolen, said in the video. "Our hearts bleed right now because of what they're saying Alton has done."
A cousin, 29-year-old James Fulsom, told The Associated Press that as recently as February, Nolen did not mention his conversion in conversations.
Oklahoma prison records show Nolen was released from prison in March 2013 after serving two years of a six-year sentence on charges that included assaulting a police officer and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
Nolen received no misconduct reports during his incarceration at five separate facilities, Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said. Nolen completed his probation in March of this year.