SARANAC LAKE - News outlets from New York City to New Delhi, India, are following the case of a snowshoer from Kashmir who was arrested Wednesday for allegedly sexually abusing a 12-year-old Saranac Lake girl.
Since it broke, the story has been covered by the Washington Post, Fox News, U.S. News and World Report, BBC News and a long list of Indian television, online and print media, plus many media that picked up Associated Press reports based on Enterprise stories. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise has received calls and emails about the case from Fox News online and television reporters, the BBC and the Indian Express, an Indian news media publishing company based in New Delhi.
Meanwhile, representatives of the U.S. senators who helped resolve Tanveer Hussain's visa issues, so he could come to Saranac Lake to compete in Saturday's World Snowshoe Championships, are under pressure and have weighed in on his arrest.
Tanveer Hussain of India carries his country's flag after crossing the finish line in the World Snowshoe Championships Feb. 25 in Saranac Lake. (News photo — Chris Knight)
"Schumer pulled visa strings for Indian athlete now accused of child sex abuse," Friday's Fox News headline read.
"As we often do when local communities ask for help, at the request of Saranac Lake we helped to navigate the visa process so these athletes could compete at a local competition," said Jason Kaplan, a spokesman for Sen. Charles Schumer. "The charges against one member of the group, who is accused of a serious crime and abusing our visa program, are extremely troubling. If he's found guilty, he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law."
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also issued a statement.
"Senator Gillibrand thinks the charges are extremely serious and he should be fully prosecuted and if found guilty held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," wrote Gillibrand spokesman Marc Brumer.
Hussain, 24, was charged Wednesday with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. Village police said the charges stem from Hussain "engaging in a passionate kiss" with a 12-year-old victim and touching her in an intimate area over her clothing around 5 p.m. Monday at a location on Park Avenue in the town of St. Armand portion of the village.
On Friday evening, Hussain was bailed out of the Essex County Jail for $5,000 by a Saranac Lake couple who are letting him stay with them at least until his preliminary hearing, set for 2 p.m. Tuesday in the St. Armand Town Hall in Bloomingdale. It was rescheduled from Monday due to a delay in getting a court-certified interpreter.
"The whole problem is the language barrier, with his attorney as well as myself," town Judge Sheridan Swinyer said. "You want to make sure all his rights are afforded him, and it's kind of hard to do that when you have the language barrier you have."
Brian Barrett, the attorney representing Hussain, said he hopes the case can be resolved soon so Hussain can go back to India, but he said that's ultimately up to Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague.
Sprague told the Enterprise Friday she won't consent to Hussain leaving the country before there's a disposition in the case "as we could not be assured he would return voluntarily or be able to renter the country.
"As with other cases, we would ask for surrender of any passports or documentation that would allow him to travel outside the country upon any release status," Sprague wrote in an email.
Hussain was granted a 10-year, multiple-entry visa, but Swinyer took it, along with Hussain's passport, on Friday evening, per Sprague's request, as the snowshoe racer was released on bail.
Since Hussain's arrest, some people have questioned the victim's account, including Hussain's traveling companion from Kashmir, Abid Khan, who is now in New York City. Khan said the girl had followed him and Hussain around in an affectionate way during their stay here. One day when they returned to the Porcupine Inn on Park Avenue, where they were staying, Khan said they found the girl playing pool with other guests. 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.
Saranac Lake Police Sgt. Casey Reardon, when asked Wednesday about Khan's account, said police had enough evidence for probable cause.
"We're confident in our investigation and the results of it," he said. "There were other witnesses. Social media was involved. There's evidence that supports the charges."
On social media, some people have expressed doubts about the girl while others have condemned Hussain as guilty.
"It's unfortunate that anyone is talking about the case prior to knowing facts," Sprague wrote. "The system is set up to allow for the courts to assess the evidence at a preliminary hearing and we will offer proof and leave it to the judge to decide whether we have met our burden.
"The credibility of all witnesses will be assessed by the judge and the defense if they so choose, will be able to cross-examine our witnesses. The burden is on the People and we will proceed with the evidence as it has been presented to us.
"We should remember the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty and the alleged victim in this case is a 12 year old child."
Hussain and Khan arrived in Saranac Lake on Feb. 23. Their visa applications to come here had initially been rejected by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, which reportedly cited "current policy" as the reason. Some people thought that policy had to do with President Donald Trump's executive order barring travel into the U.S. from seven foreign countries, since the visa denial happened around the time the order was issued, even though India wasn't on the list.
However, U.S. officials later said the denial had no connection to Trump's executive order. Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau reached out to the village's representatives in Washington for help in getting the men here: Schumer, Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik.
Schumer's office was the first to contact the New Delhi embassy and seek an explanation for the visa denial, according to Rabideau. The response was that Hussain and Khan were determined to be ineligible for visas "due to a failure to demonstrate strong ties to assure their departure after a limited stay in the United States."
In a subsequent Facebook post, Rabideau said he thought the men had documented strong ties to India. Among the reasons he cited: They both have full-time jobs; Khan is married, owns property and is building a house; Hussain is a championship athlete in Jammu and Kashmir; neither has a criminal record; both had traveled to the World Snowshoe Championships in Italy last year and returned home.
After the mayor reached out to Schumer, Gillibrand and Stefanik, the men were told they could re-apply for visas, which they did. They received their visas Feb. 22, the day before they flew to the U.S.
Stefanik's spokesman told Fox News that she inquired with the embassy about the situation but took no further action.
Khan and Hussain got a celebrity welcome in Saranac Lake, including at a Feb. 23 reception Rabideau hosted in the village offices. They were given free lodging at the Porcupine. Restaurants offered them free meals. Local residents donated more than $1,600 on a crowdsourcing website the mayor started to cover some of their travel expenses.
The day before the races, Khan and Hussain met with Saranac Lake Middle School seventh-graders, who had written letters on their behalf to Schumer and Gillibrand. They fielded questions from the group and showed them a series of winter recreation videos filmed in Kashmir.
The girl who said Hussain abused her attends the middle school. Principal Bruce Van Weelden wouldn't identify her, and neither will the Enterprise per its own policy, but he said the school district is helping her.
"In general terms, we offer support to all of our students, and this instance is no different," Van Weelden said. "We are supporting the student, and the students as a whole that may have questions or things that feel as though are unresolved. We're not ignoring the situation."
Middle school students have been talking about the case a lot in the last two days because it's been in the news, Van Weelden added.
In India, the story is being carried far and wide via media outlets across the country.
"Yes, he has been arrested after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor girl surfaced. We are trying to ascertain what happened," Mir Mudasir, president of the Snowshoe Federation of India told the Hindustan Times. "Personally I am very disturbed by the turn of events. This thing has happened after the event was over. I have full faith in American law and let the law take its own course." He stressed that the federation couldn't be held responsible for an individual's act.
When they applied for their visas, Khan and Hussain brought with them letters of support from government officials in Jammu and Kashmir. In a Facebook post on the day of the Snowshoe Championships, the government of Jammu and Kashmir lauded Hussain's participation in the event, noting he was sponsored by the State Sports Council.
The agency is now trying to distance itself from him.
Hussain was "neither an employee of the State Sports Council nor has the sports body been involved in the athlete's participation in the Snowshoe event," the sports body's Secretary Waheed Para told India's PTI news service.
"His (Hussain's) case for sponsorship is pending consideration. We have not taken any decision yet," he added.
At the same time, more than a half-dozen messages of support for Hussain have been posted to his Facebook page.
"Sir we know you," wrote Salman Ali. "You are a good person. And we hope you will be proved innocent. Allah is with you."
Plenty of local residents are talking, too.
Miralem "Mickey" Cecunjanin, manager of La Bella Ristorante in Saranac Lake, is an immigrant from Bosnia and participated in a panel discussion a year ago called "Meeting our Muslim Neighbors," organized by the Saranac Lake Ecumenical Council. He commented on Hussain's case while calling the Enterprise to find out details of the next court hearing.
"I just hope the Saranac Lake community doesn't feel bad about investing in these two people because how would we know that something like this would happen?" Cecunjanin said. "That's the risk you take when you invest in someone. So I don't think people should be up in arms about this."
"If these two gentlemen are innocent, I wouldn't want them to think they couldn't show their faces here," Cecunjanin said.
"If the verdict were to come back that he's guilty, I would like for people to make a judgment of character rather than a judgment of race, religion or background."
Peter Crowley contributed to this report.