Homeless man who terrorized south Austin neighborhood for months gets help

A homeless man who has terrorized a neighborhood in South Austin for years is finally getting help. Neighbors are relieved and are hoping they can now enjoy some peace and quiet.

It’s been almost two years of what neighbors call "hell."

"There is a guy with an ax just screaming violent profane and chopping on trees," Westgate resident James Murff said.

"Always walking around with a chainsaw and then after a week he had a pole saw," Westgate resident JJ Pepper said.

Residents in the Westgate and Cherry Creek neighborhoods know the man by name, Rami Zawaideh.

He was first arrested in Travis County in July 2022 for criminal trespassing. The county attorney declined to prosecute.

Zawaideh was arrested again in August, twice in September, and again in October 2022, but he was quickly back in the greenbelt threatening residents, chopping down trees, making sculptures, and screaming early in the morning.

"There's only so much we can do. We can arrest them. We can file the charges and after that, that's up to the court," Austin Police Sgt. William Beck said.

Residents said they thought charges were going to stick when Zawaideh took a sledgehammer to city property in January 2023.

"This level of escalation with the boulders is just really worrisome," Cherry Creek resident Frankie Hefley said.


Zawaideh was arrested and charged with felony criminal mischief, but the district attorney dropped the charges. Residents continued to push to get help for Zawaideh.

"Mental health is obviously an issue, and we just don’t know when he’s going to snap and take it to another level," Hefley said.

"This person needs to be removed and rehabilitated, so they can be put back into society, because they’re just unwell," Pepper said.

Zawaideh’s mother agreed. She drove from New York to Austin and spoke with FOX 7 last week. She said she had been in town for about a month because she was planning on taking Zawaideh back home with her. She said she was told city officials had come up with a plan for Zawaideh and that he would be picked up, not jailed, but taken to a hospital, evaluated, stabilized, and he’d then be on his way to New York.

Time passed though, and Zawaideh was still out in the greenbelt terrorizing a new neighbor.

"He's very profane, he's beginning to target me and my little dog, talking about murder, calling me obscene names," Westgate resident Debbie Horne said.

She said she called 911 more than 30 times but, "I just don’t have any help."

Just hours after FOX 7 contacted council member Ryan Alter’s office, the district attorney’s office, county attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, and the Austin Police Department, Zawaideh was picked up and taken to a hospital. City officials said it was a voluntary commitment. 

Zawaideh’s mother said an order of protective custody would be filed. She said she hasn’t been able to get in contact with her son since he’s been picked up but hopes he will call soon and agree to head north with her. 

A city representative couldn’t tell FOX 7 how long Zawaideh would be receiving treatment in Austin.