A convicted mosque shooter has learned to embrace Islam after he was welcomed into the Muslim community he had terrorized.
Ted Hakey Jr. pleaded guilty to a hate crime and spent six months in prison for firing 30 gunshots two years ago inside the empty Ahmadiyya Baitul Aman Mosque near his Connecticut home, reported WVIT-TV.
The former U.S. Marine said he learned to be a "Muslim hater" on social media, and he shot up the local mosque in November 2015 while drunk and angry over a mass shooting in Paris by Islamic extremists.
"The night of the Paris attacks, you could see the mosque clearly from my house because there were no leaves on the trees," Hakey told the TV station. "I went to get out of my car and looked over and kind of thought, 'Well, let me do something about it.'"
After pleading guilty to intentional destruction of religious property, a federal hate crime, Hakey asked to meet with mosque leaders to apologize.
His life changed after that meeting.
"This huge bodybuilder-type guy comes in, and to see tears coming down his face and red cheeks, it humbled us as well," Zahir Mannan, one of the leaders of the mosque. "It was a genuine connection that you can't fabricate."
Hakey stopped drinking after the shooting and began attending treatment classes, and he credits mosque leaders with helping him turn his life around.
"If they handed this in any other way, I would've went to prison angry," he said. "I would've came out and I would've been just as angry."
A judge denied Hakey's request to avoid prison, but he said Mannan kept his promise to visit every other week during the six-month term.
He also gave Hakey some precious gifts, including his own grandfather's Quran, and the two men forged a strong bond.
"We talk about things I don't even discuss with some of my best friends," Hakey told WVIT. "It just became a relationship that's really, very tight."
Hakey hasn't converted to Islam, but he has prayed with Mannan and regularly visits the mosque, speaks at Muslim gatherings and teaches others about Islam.
"I feel like I owe them for the forgiveness I was given," he said.