The self-proclaimed jihadist accused in a New Year’s Eve machete attack on two NYPD officers spent his summer wielding a weed whacker.
Neighbors of terror suspect Trevor Bickford recalled the resident of small-town Wells, Maine, as a former junior high school football player working at a local golf course a few months earlier, with no signs of radicalization or hints of the Times Square carnage ahead. He was a member of the grounds crew at the Old Marsh Country Club, trimming the grass and raking the sand traps in the sunshine.
“Very polite, soft-spoken,” a 57-year-old local resident told the Daily News. “He carried himself well. He was respectful, polite. Not arrogant in any way. He said thank you. You’d never know. Just totally shocked. … What was going on in his life? You’re trying to put your head around it.”
Bickford shouted “Allahu Akbar,” an Arabic phrase meaning “God is great,” before targeting the two police officers with his machete only two hours before revelers rang in the new year, a police source said, with Maine friends and neighbors reeling at the news.
A golf course co-worker in the sleepy coastal town near the New Hampshire border recalled the now-hospitalized suspect matter-of-factly sharing his embrace of Islam earlier this year.
“He told me he ‘converted to Islam,’ and he ‘liked the teachings,'” said the colleague, who first met Bickford in middle school and played with him on the football team. “That’s all he said to me. He didn’t say the timing or anything. I just said, ‘Oh, that’s cool. That’s interesting.'”
There were no obvious indications of Bickford’s new religious affiliation, and he continued to show up for work six days a week in jeans, boots, sweatshirts and a baseball cap, the co-worker said.
“He was quiet, but he was a nice kid,” the colleague continued. “Quiet but nice. When you talked to him, he was personable.”
When Bickford’s father died several years ago, he took the loss hard, a police source said, adding that he didn’t get along with his mother’s new partner.
But the first sign to neighbors on the wooded residential street that something was wrong came on New Year’s Day, when they spotted black SUVs parked in the family driveway as helicopters whirred in the sky above. The Bickfords’ next-door neighbor was stunned to find out why the authorities had suddenly descended on their quiet stretch of the state.
“I never saw anything that made me think, ‘Oh, that’s weird,'” she told The News about the Bickford house. “Very quiet family. Just an over the fence ‘Hello, how are you?’ They were busy with work and sports and activities. … I don’t know what to say.”
The woman recalled the 19-year-old — who lived with his mom, stepdad and brother — often stopping to chat as she walked her dog through the town of about 10,000 residents. On Tuesday, three “No Trespassing” signs sat outside the suspect’s family home.
The recently radicalized Bickford expected to die during his New Year’s Eve attack on the officers near the annual Times Square ball drop, and penned a note asking for a traditional Muslim funeral, police sources told The News on Tuesday.
Bickford was still awaiting his court appearance four days after the wild attack on two cops that ended when a third officer shot the suspect in his shoulder, authorities said. Officials now expect the suspect, who traveled to Manhattan from Maine, will be arraigned Wednesday in his Bellevue Hospital bed, with a police source indicating the case will not fall under federal jurisdiction.
Bickford, a former honor roll student and award-winning artist, landed on law enforcement radar after his mom reported her son’s radicalization to local police on Dec. 10.
“[She] contacted us and said, ‘What should we do?'” Wells police Capt. Gerald Congdon said. “We notified the FBI. The FBI did their thing and that’s it.”
The terrorism suspect left his sleeping bag and camping equipment in a Queens park before the attack on West 52nd Street and Eighth Avenue, where one officer — in his first day on the job — suffered a fractured skull. The NYPD was still investigating the details of the bizarre and unprovoked attack as revelers gathered nearby to ring in 2023.
“We’ve received some computers that we’re going through right now,” NYPD Chief of Intelligence and Counterterrorism Thomas Galati said in a Tuesday interview on NY1, adding he expects additional charges to be added to the current counts of attempted murder and attempted assault.
Before heading to the periphery of the massive annual celebration at Times Square, Bickford left behind a journal detailing his plan for a fight to the death with police and directions to leave all his belongings to his mother, police sources said.
Galati said the NYPD was never notified about the defendant’s trip to New York, although he added the FBI had the suspect on their radar. Bickford was placed on an FBI watch list earlier in December.
“They did what was prudent in Maine,” he said. “They went out and interviewed the family, a couple of days later they interviewed him. … They opened up a full investigation on him, so they did everything they were supposed to do.”
The suspect traveled south to Manhattan on a train last Thursday and wound up staying at Forest Park in Queens before the attack, sources said. His brother was in the U.S. military, and police sources said Bickford had urged his family members to accept Allah.
“We really didn’t know what was going on,” said a third neighbor who witnessed the surreal New Year’s Day scene in Maine. “But it is what it is.”
Story by Thomas Tracy, Rocco Parascandola, Emma Seiwell and Larry McShane, New York Daily News.