IDABEL, Okla. – The brutal attack at a food processing plant in suburban Oklahoma City on Thursday afternoon stands in stark contrast to Alton Alexander Nolen’s upbringing in Idabel, a quiet town in southeast Oklahoma, a few miles north of the Texas border.
Police say Nolen, 30, used a 10-inch work knife to kill and behead office worker Colleen Hufford, 54, then repeatedly stab Traci Johnson, 43, shortly after being fired from the Vaughan Foods plant in Moore on Thursday afternoon.
The plant’s chief operating officer, Mark Vaughan, stopped the attack when he shot Nolen with a rifle kept in his office, police said. Vaughn is a reserve sheriff's deputy.
News of the attack shocked Idabel, a remote city of about 7,000 people, which this weekend celebrates its annual fall festival.
Nolen graduated in 2003 from Idabel High School, where he’d played football, according to the McCurtain Daily Gazette. He worked at the Tyson Foods plant in neighboring Broken Bow.
Randy Watkins, who said he lives in the same neighborhood as Nolen's grandparents and mother, described Nolen was an “athletic, obedient kid.”
“He comes from good Christian people,” said Watkins. “He had a strong, Baptist upbringing.”
That stands in sharp contrast to police descriptions of Nolen as a recent convert to Islam who had tried to solicit coworkers to the religion before being fired.
Nolen lived at the Guthrie Site of the Idabel Housing Authority, in an area of the city with a large minority population, west of the Kiamichi Railroad lines. African Americans represent a quarter of Idabel’s residents, according to the U.S. Census. Another 8 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
Some of Nolen’s family members still live at the Guthrie Site, including cousin Chazz Nolen, who said he hasn’t seen Alton in 7 to 8 years.
“It's crazy,” said Chazz Nolen, speculating that his cousin's “bad temper” may have been behind the attack.
Chazz Nolen said his cousin was not practicing any religion when he knew him.
Other members of Nolen’s family declined to speak to reporters.
Record show that Nolen has an extensive criminal history, which includes incarceration for possession of marijuana, escaping from detention, assault and battery on a police officer, and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute cocaine.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections records show he has extensive tattoos, including a chest tattoo that reads, “As-Salaamu Ataikum,” a misspelling of an Arabic phrase which translates to “Peace be upon you.” He also has a chest tattoo of Jesus and another of praying hands.
As of noon Friday, Nolen remained hospitalized in stable condition. Officials said he will be formally charged as soon as his medical condition permits.
The charges that he faces are difficult to comprehend for those living in Idabel.
Samantha Sharp, who lives in the same housing complex where Nolen once lived, said the neighborhood has always been relatively peaceful.
“It's shocking that anyone from Idabel would do that,” Sharp said.
Heather McFarland said news of the crime that Nolen is accused of committing is “scary.” McFarland works at a convenience store across the street from the housing complex.
“Knowing that he is from Idabel sent chills up and down my spine,” she said.
Caleb Slinkard is editor of the Greenville, Texas, Herald-Banner. Cliff Gibson is editor of the Rockwall, Texas, Herald-Banner.