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Officer stabbed in Flint was millimeters from death

Sarah Rahal, The Detroit News

The blade struck him in the neck, slicing near his Adam’s apple as it worked its way around to the back. He was but a few millimeters away from death.

Lt. Jeff Neville, who was wounded at Bishop International Airport on Wednesday in a possible terrorism attack, is now recovering at Hurley Hospital and is expected to be released as early as Sunday — 50 stitches later, according to his doctor.

“Fortunately, there was no injury to the main blood vessel or his airways,” said Dr. Donald Scholten, the officer’s surgeon at Hurley Medical Center, during a news conference Friday.

Authorities say Amor M. Ftouhi, a Tunisian national with dual citizenship in Canada, struck Neville with a 12-inch knife with a green handle and a black serrated blade marked “Amazon Jungle Survival Knife” while yelling “Allahu Akbar,” which means “God is great” in Arabic. The blade just missed Neville’s main blood vessel to the brain by millimeters, doctors reported.

The incident is being investigated as a possible terrorism event.

Neville, 49, who is now alert and awake, fought off his attacker for a minute as other police assisted in subduing the suspect.

Doctors said the airport officer had a hemorrhage on the way to the hospital, where he would later undergo surgery. During the two-hour procedure, Scholten said he had to resuscitate Neville after controlling the hemorrhage.

“He suffered a large laceration of the right side of his neck. There were methods in place — we call ‘damage control’ — to minimize hemorrhage and the effects of hemorrhage,” the doctor recounted Friday.

Neville has not yet regained the ability to chew because of swelling but is expected to make a full recovery. Doctors say he’s expected to fully recover within eight weeks.

According to authorities, Ftouhi entered Flint’s airport at 8:52 a.m. Wednesday, carrying a red duffel bag and a dark satchel bag. About 18 minutes later, he went up an escalator to the second level of the airport, heading to a restaurant.

At 9:37 a.m., Ftouhi left the restaurant with both bags and entered a second-floor restroom. A minute later, he exited the restroom without either bag, pulled out a knife and attacked Neville.

The airport officer was rushed to the hospital but suffered the hemorrhage on the way at around 9:56 a.m. Scholten and said he entered the operating room with a special team assembled at 10:06 a.m.

Neville, who has been with the airport since 2001 and became a lieutenant in 2006, spent the next 36 hours after surgery in a neurocare unit under observation.

“Officer Neville was calm and ... understood the situation he was in. He continued to make good progress,” Scholten said.

Authorities, meanwhile, say they are trying to learn why Ftouhi drove to Flint’s airport and attacked Neville, who was in uniform. At the moment, Ftouhi remains in federal custody where he is being held on a charge of violence at an international airport, a 20-year felony.

Authorities say the 49-year-old suspect from Montreal traveled to the United States legally from Canada on June 16, entering through Lake Champlain, New York, and then entered Michigan as early as June 18.

Fluent in French, Ftouhi is a married father of three who worked as a trucker until two weeks ago and called Canada his home the last 10 years.

Ftouhi, whose Facebook page states he is a 2009 graduate of O’Sullivan College of Quebec, also was a part-time caretaker at a Montreal apartment building where he lived and had once studied to sell insurance, people who knew him said. Ftouhi has lived there with his wife and three children.

Federal authorities investigating Ftouhi believe the man acted alone. Ftouhi had no travel documents to suggest he was planning travel to and from Flint, according to the FBI. Ftouhi unsuccessfully attempted to buy a gun in the United States, officials said.

Ftouhi’s next court appearance, a detention hearing, is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Flint.


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Twitter: @SarahRahal