Community shocked, saddened by allegations against snowshoer
SARANAC LAKE — The community that opened its hearts and its wallets to a pair of Indian snowshoers reacted to the arrest of one of them Wednesday with a mix of shock, sadness and anger.
Tanveer Hussain was arrested Wednesday on charges of first-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. Village police say the 24-year-old from Kashmir, India, kissed and touched a 12-year-old girl in an intimate area over her clothing.
“What a mess,” wrote Thomas W. Allen after the Enterprise posted the story on its Facebook page Wednesday night.
“Very sad for everyone involved,” added John Brown.
In online posts, some were quick to rush to judgment against Hussain, while others noted he’s innocent until proven guilty. Others said they didn’t know enough about what allegedly happened.
“Did something really happen?” wrote Eileen Black. “Then I would be appalled. Did some person report him because he hugged their child? That, too, is appalling. Give us the story. Let us know what happened.”
Khan and Hussain fought to get to the World Snowshoe Championships, and the local community fought to get them here. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi initially denied their visa applications, reportedly thinking they might not return home due to a lack of “strong ties” to their home country.
Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau reached out for help from New York’s senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who contacted the embassy in New Delhi. The two were later told they could reapply for visas, and they were eventually approved to travel here.
They arrived a week ago today, chauffeured here by Porcupine Inn owner Fred Mazzeo, who gave them complimentary lodging. Some restaurants offered them free meals. Local residents gave generously to a crowdfunding campaign, started by Rabideau, that raised more than $1,600 to cover some of their travel expenses.
Rabideau didn’t return phone messages Wednesday night, after Hussain’s arrest. He emailed a two-sentence statement to the Enterprise this morning, saying it would be his only comment at this time.
“We have a compassionate community that understood the importance of allowing Tanveer the opportunity to race here, and a great local effort allowed that to happen and it was the right thing to do at the time,” the mayor said. “We are understandably shocked by this latest development as we await the determination of our justice system before we can make any further comment.”
Police said the alleged incident took place at a location on Park Avenue in the St. Armand section of the village. They aren’t naming the Porcupine Inn, but that’s where Khan said the girl claims she was abused by Hussain.
Khan told the Enterprise that the young girl was acting very affectionate toward him over the weekend and showed up at the Porcupine Inn uninvited Monday evening. Khan said Hussain told him the girl tried to make an advance on him, but he turned her away.
“He says there was no contact at all,” Khan said.
Mazzeo, reached by phone at his inn early Wednesday evening, said he had been in Plattsburgh all day and knew nothing of Hussain’s arrest.
“I’m shocked,” he said. “They couldn’t be nicer.”
Told of the nature of the charges, he expressed even greater shock.
Mazzeo said he gave Khan and Hussain “a wide berth,” like he would for any guests. He was asked if he recalled a young girl coming to the inn Monday night to see them.
“There were so many people that said hello of all ages and shapes and sizes and genders,” Mazzeo said. “Nothing really sticks out in my mind. If anything occurred, it was not under my nose. I’m in the kitchen. I’m vacuuming. I’m cleaning. I’m redoing one of the bathrooms. I didn’t pay much attention to what they were doing. Like any other guests, I left them alone.”
Sunita Halasz of Saranac Lake said her family had Khan and Hussain over for dinner around 6 p.m. Monday night, roughly an hour after police say the alleged incident took place.
“We had a wonderful, fun dinner with Abid and Tanveer at our house,” Halasz said in a Facebook message. “We asked lots of questions about Kashmir, which is such a fascinating part of the world, and we asked about how Abid and Tanveer got interested in their professions. Both were so kind and polite, and very playful and gentle with our kids who loved interacting with them.”
Jim Tucker, who directed the snowshoe races and coaches the Paul Smith’s College’s snowshoe racing team, said Khan and Hussain had been scheduled to talk to students at the college around the time Hussain was arrested Wednesday.
Based on what Khan and others have said, Tucker thinks Hussain may be innocent.
“My gut feeling is they’re being railroaded or Tanveer is being railroaded,” Tucker said.
Chloe Mattilio, a Paul Smith’s College snowshoe racer who met Hussain at last year’s championships, said the girl was following Hussain around during Saturday’s races.
“She asked for his phone number, but their phones don’t work here so she got his Facebook information,” Mattilio said. I guess she was messaging him and said ‘I have a crush on you,’ and all this stuff. He said, ‘We are friends,’ but he was going to meet with her and hang out. It was all very odd.”
Mattilio said the same girl was waiting outside the Porcupine on Sunday when she and a friend came there to meet Hussain and Khan.
“When we came in, she came in and knocked on the door and asked if Tanveer was there,” she said. “We said he wasn’t there, so she — and she was with her older brother I believe — they just started walking back toward town. It was very strange.”
“This is not the headache anyone wants to deal with,” Mattilio said of the situation. “Hopefully it’s not what it looks like.”
This was the first time the World Snowshoe Championships were held in the U.S., and by all accounts they were a big success. They took place despite a lack of snow that led to a last-minute, volunteer-effort to shovel snow on the race course. The races drew more than double the number of competitors of any prior championships.
Does Hussain’s arrest now cast a shadow over the event?
“Not on the event itself,” Tucker said. “I think until they find out what the real truth was, it just looks really bad for Tanveer. It looks bad for all the people that worked their tail off to get these two so they could come to the United States.”
Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley contributed to this report.