Lifestyle & Human Interest

'Satan Is in The Trees': Neighbors Say Homeless Man Wielding Chainsaw is Terrorizing Community


Homelessness is a major issue in many large cities, and Austin, Texas, definitely has its share of tent cities and has tried various means to address the issue.

One area that housed a particularly large encampment was Williamson Creek Greenbelt. Most of the people there have since been moved along, but the former naturally beautiful area has been left scarred with trash and debris.

The change is especially disappointing for residents who appreciated the area for its trails and views.

“For the first six or seven years, my kids and I hiked back there, explored, as did many folks in the neighborhood,” Westlake Neighborhood resident Christina Coats-Gatz told KTBC-TV.

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Although a bustling encampment no longer exists, one individual remains, and if you ask the locals, the activities he’s up to are odd — even for Austin.

The man, named Rami Zawaideh, allegedly scours the greenbelt with a chainsaw, felling trees and shaping them into unsettling arrangements.

“Always walking around with a chainsaw, and then after a week he had a pole saw,” said John James Pepper, a Westlake resident.

Pepper said he’s called police, taking the action after the “arrangements” started popping up.

“I called them after he started building these Blair Witch installations that are just very creepy,” Pepper said, according to KTBC. “It’s really odd times and just chopping and a saw going off, and then you’ll wake up or come back home and then there’s just more of these weird monolithic structures, just stacks of what I believe to be greenbelt trees.”

And it’s not just the trees the neighbors are worried about — it’s the man’s apparently erratic behavior.

“This individual named Rami comes after me and says, ‘You’re stealing my tools,’ and I’m like, ‘Hold on, I’m not stealing your tools, you’re not supposed to be here. The city has cleared everybody out; you can’t build latrines.’ He’s like, ‘I’m not building a latrine,’ something about Satan is in the trees, what’s wrong with you, are you a Satanist,” Coats-Gatz said of her run-in with Zawaideh.

“What if next week God tells him to burn the whole forest? There’s people all up and down here, there’s a retirement community, this is a danger back here,” Coats-Gatz said.

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There is an active case against Zawaidah, according to KTBC, as court documents show he’s been charged with criminal trespassing in the area five times. The outlet said the county attorney has rejected prosecuting him all but twice.

A pretrial hearing has been set for Zawaideh for Nov. 29.

“I would hope that he would get help somewhere and not be allowed to be a repeat offender,” Coats-Gatz said.

“I just want to see anything done in regard to the protection of tax-paying citizens and the public lands that we love,” Pepper said.

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