In the Line of Fire
Sometimes you look for trouble. Sometimes trouble finds you. And sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
THE CROSS is bent.
The ring that hangs next to it, on a gold chain around Nash Noufal’s neck, is dented, too. There are dents in his body as well—hidden scars from a 2008 shooting that required years of recovery.
“Sometimes I feel like it was a bad dream,” says the local hairstylist, whose given name is Najib Gerdak Noufal, though friends and clients know him simply as “Nash.”
It is before 10 a.m., and Urban Halo, the Clarendon salon Nash owns and operates with his father, Henry, is not yet open for the day. Sitting in the waiting area—a sleek, modern space bathed in blue light—Nash recounts the events that occurred in the wee hours of a different morning six years ago.
He was returning home to his parents’ house in Springfield after an evening out. A car was following him, and he’d been taught “not to bring trouble home,” he says. So he drove to the Franconia police station, parked, and let the trouble catch up with him.
That first chapter ended harmlessly enough. The driver, Scott Duke, had mistaken Nash for someone else and had followed the wrong car. Nash says he suspected Duke had been drinking, and urged him to call a friend, which he did. (Duke did not return phone calls for this story.)
What happened next, however, was like a scene straight out of a movie. As the two men waited for Duke’s friend to arrive, they heard a crash. They watched in horror as an SUV rammed into another car (Nash remembers it as a limo-service town car) and then proceeded to chase the car through the police station parking lot as the driver screamed for help.
Nash ran into the police station for assistance, but was stunned with the response. He says an employee at the front desk instructed him to go back outside and tell the town-car driver to call his dispatcher.
When he returned to the parking lot, both the town car and the SUV were gone. Duke was still in his car. But it wasn’t long before the SUV looped back, its driver shouting through his open window. Then Nash heard the blasts. “I feel my body being pushed and I just realize: I’ve been shot,” he says.
Though Nash had been shielding Duke’s car window, Duke was hit in the chest. (He survived, but a bullet remained under his sternum, according to 2009 news reports.)
Nash was shot in the shoulder and the leg, and twice in his side. To this day, he still has one bullet lodged precariously close to his femoral artery and another in his femur.
And then there was the fifth bullet—the one that deflected off the gold crucifix around his neck.
“Who’s your savior?”
That’s what the SUV’s driver—Jeffrey S. Koger, now serving 66 years in prison—asked him, pressing a .38 special to Nash’s head as he lay bleeding on the ground.
“Jesus Christ,” he replied.
Koger didn’t shoot. He issued another verbal threat and abruptly drove off. Nash slowly put his hand in his pocket for his phone and called 911.
As it turned out, Nash and Duke weren’t the only casualties that night. Earlier in the evening, Koger had shot and seriously injured a taxi driver in Alexandria. According to news accounts in the Washington Post, Koger’s rampage, which occurred while he was being investigated for stealing from his family’s company, ended in a shootout with police, during which an officer was also hit.
But Nash wasn’t aware of any of this as he lay on the asphalt in front of the police station, waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
At 5 a.m., Henry Noufal’s phone rang. It was Inova Fairfax Hospital calling to inform him that his son had been shot, and that they were wheeling him in for surgery. “My heart dropped,” Henry says.
Nash’s sister, Rita, was on her way to an early-morning lacrosse practice at George Mason University when her mother, Leila, phoned from the hospital. “I was so out of it I was going the wrong way on the highway and had to turn around and go the other way,” Rita says.
When Nash came out of surgery, his family was waiting. “I remember waking up and seeing my dad with tears in his eyes,” he says. He gave his parents a “thumbs up” sign, “to show I was going to be okay.”
Emergency doctors had cut him open to repair his bullet-torn colon and stop the bleeding. Two days later, he returned to the operating room so that surgeons could remove a bullet that had fractured his spine.
Those weren’t the last of his surgeries. Two more would be performed years later—one to remove a bullet that had migrated to the surface of his chest, and another to repair an abdominal hernia that formed as a result of the shooting and the triage at the hospital.
Prior to that terrifying night, Nash had been toying with the idea of opening his own salon. He had even started scouting out locations. During his convalescence on his parents’ couch, he had even more time to iron out a business model. “My mom took care of me the entire three months,” he says. “I don’t think she slept for the first two.”
Hair styling has long been a Noufal family tradition, Nash explains (roughly two dozen of his relatives are hairdressers). Henry started out sweeping salon floors as a boy in Lebanon. He opened a salon in Beirut and worked in Paris before permanently establishing himself in the U.S. in 1984.
Like his father, Nash embraced the family business at a young age, often tagging along to watch his dad at work in salons in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. “He took an interest in watching me and mimicking the actions of highlighting, coloring and cutting on the mannequins,” Henry says.
At 12, Nash became a shampoo boy. At 18, he was allowed to cut his grandmother’s hair.
He considered other career options, but never seriously.
“My senior year in high school I kind of wanted to become a stock broker, but that didn’t last long,” Nash says, smiling. He went to George Mason University and earned a degree in organizational management, all the while apprenticing under his father. He later taught (and learned) with Toni & Guy/TIGI.
Urban Halo, which opened in 2010 and two years later earned a five-star rating from Allure magazine, was carefully named. “Urban, because we’re in the city, and Halo, from angels in heaven,” says the 30-something stylist, who now lives in Tysons Corner. “It just clicked: with the cross getting hit and with me being alive—with all of the things that happened.”
Nash now believes that he was somehow meant to be in Franconia that night. “I was meant to be a part of that because God feels I could handle it. Anyone who survived five bullets should be in a wheelchair. I am still able to work and live a normal life.”
And yet the shooting still haunts him. To this day, he cannot run as a result of the injuries he sustained. He just restarted rehab for his leg.
He still takes issue with the way law enforcement handled the situation that night, beginning with his assertion that the front desk clerk at the police station allowed him to walk back outside and into harm’s way.
In 2010, he attempted to bring a lawsuit against the clerk, but the suit— about which Fairfax County police say they cannot comment—was dismissed because it was filed more than two years after the shooting. Later that year, a U.S. District Court judge said that the suit could be refiled, but Nash thus far has declined to do so. His preference is to focus on the future, he says, “my life and goals.”
Much of that revolves around the salon, where he works 12 hours a day, six days a week. He’d like to do some charity work and take a real vacation. He hopes to visit Lebanon again someday.
“Spending time looking back is not going to change anything,” he says. “If you ask what I do now, I just prepare for life.”
Madelyn Rosenberg is a freelance writer and children’s author in Arlington. Her newest books, How to Behave at a Tea Party and Nanny X, are both due out in September 2014.