Slain Woman’s Family Talks of McNair Relationship
By all accounts it was a whirlwind romance.
It started about six months ago when former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair exchanged phone numbers with Sahel Kazemi, a then-19-year waitress working at Dave & Buster's Restaurant. Saturday, the relationship ended in tragedy, as the couple was found shot to death Saturday in a downtown Nashville condominium.
Police continue to investigate the circumstances of the events leading up to the deaths, but according to friends of Kazemi, she was smitten and so was McNair.
For her 20th birthday in late May, McNair got her a black Cadillac Escalade. Her family met him over sushi dinner that same weekend. Before that, Kazemi zipped around in his Bentley, telling family and friends about the generosity of her new beau - a former professional athlete.
"We met him because I don't watch football and didn't know who he was," said Farzin Abdi, Kazemi's nephew, who was in town from Jacksonville, Fla., to retrieve the body. "We went out to dinner and she was so happy and was having fun. Were we happy about the relationship? No."
Kazemi's family and friends pieced together a portrait of their relationship - one they were leery of because of her age - as police confirmed on Sunday that McNair was shot four times. Police have stopped just shy of calling it a murder-suicide.
"It's hard right now to imagine what people are saying," Abdi said. "I can't believe it because she was a sweet girl. This is hard on us."
There were trips, dinners, a promise of living together and ultimately marriage, said Abdi, 27.
"I don't know if he had filed for divorce but I thought it wouldn't happen," Abdi said, adding that Kazemi was a child when adopted into the family after her mother died in Iran. Abdi's mother is Kazemi's sister.
McNair took Kazemi, known as Jenny to friends, on trips to Key West, Las Vegas, California, Hawaii and McNair's farm in Mississippi with the couple seeing each other often, Abdi said. Pictures of the smiling couple parasailing were posted Sunday afternoon on the celebrity gossip site TMZ.com.
Kazemi told Abdi they would take a break when McNair would go away on his own with his children. McNair and the children recently returned from Mexico, Abdi said.
"I was under the impression that his family knew about her," Abdi said. "That he took the children alone with him on vacation is a sign that they were separated."
Kazemi told her sister, Sepideh Salmani, that McNair was in the process of divorcing.
Kazemi, though younger than Abdi and Salmani, was actually their aunt but they were raised as siblings. Salmani's mother adopted her when she was 9, after Kazemi's mother was killed in their native Iran.
Salmani talked to her sister every day, and said she was very happy in her relationship with Steve McNair.
"That's why she was like, 'OK, now you're divorcing. We can date,'" Salmani said. "He told her, it was going to be finished, the whole divorce was going to be done, two weeks from yesterday."
Although a check of Davidson County's court records shows there is no divorce pending - at least in Nashville - McNair's house is for sale. His wife, Mechelle McNair, hasn't spoken to the media. Police said she is distraught over his death.
Kazemi was a young woman who wanted to have fun and couldn't have hurt anyone - not herself or someone else, Salmani said.
McNair met her family@
McNair and Kazemi met earlier this year in January or February at Dave & Buster's, where Kazemi worked as a waitress. She was attractive and approachable, family and friends say. McNair was a regular, often coming in with family, friends or alone.
"He was one of the nice guys who would talk to you, not like the other athletes," said Brandon Millichamp, who worked with Kazemi at the restaurant. "And she was a super sweet girl. I was surprised to hear about their dating and this was so out of the blue."
Kazemi also didn't like living alone, Abdi said. One of the conversations turned to talk about Abdi going to a shooting range in Florida. He told Kazemi that since she didn't like being alone - or if she felt unsafe - getting a gun carry permit would be an option.
"She told me she didn't have to because Steve had lots of guns," Abdi said.
As her birthday approached in May, Abdi said, Kazemi wanted the family to visit Nashville.
"Don't buy me any gifts, just come and spend my birthday with me," she told Abdi and her sister.
Abdi said they met and partied with McNair at local clubs. Still, the family was hoping she'd reconsider moving back to Florida.
The family was worried about the rapid relationship and the extravagance that came with it.
"She was in a Bentley and I don't think it was right because there are jealous people," Abdi said. "People were telling her that they didn't have anyone to pay their bills or buy them things."
Kazemi first came to Nashville nearly four years ago with her then-boyfriend, Keith Norfleet. They broke up about six months ago, and she started seeing McNair soon after. The family says the ex-boyfriend was not happy about her seeing the former quarterback and wanted to rekindle their relationship.
But Kazemi had moved on and remained friends with Norfleet.
Some arguments heard@
Neighbors said they overheard arguments come from her apartment periodically, and occasionally saw Kazemi dropped off by a limo service. Abdi said they were minor arguments, often immaturity from both sides without giving details of the spats.
Neighbor Regan Howard thought things were fine between the couple when Kazemi arrived in the Escalade - her birthday gift from McNair. Howard recalls Kazemi not knowing how to use some of the vehicle's accessories, like the remote keys and other buttons.
"She was a nice, pretty girl, who acted like any other 19 or 20-year-old," Howard said.
Kazemi and her family moved to the U.S. in 2002, fleeing Iran to Turkey before settling in Florida. As members of the Bahai Faith, they were in danger in Iran. They quickly got acclimated. Kazemi worked hard and like earning her own money, the family said.
Her greatest dream, Salmani said, was to be famous.
"I think she is now," Salmani said. "She is everywhere."