Adnan Syed Was Convicted Of Murder As A Teen, But He Was 'Tremendously Popular' In High School

While one classmate claims he was "well-adjusted," others said Adnan Syed seemed overbearing when it came to his relationship with Hae Min Lee, whom he was later convicted of killing.

By Gina Tron

When "Serial," a podcast examining whether convicted killer Adnan Syed was actually guilty, came out in 2014, it sparked a frenzy of interest around the decades-old murder case. People took to the internet in droves to armchair investigate and share theories about Syed's role in the murder of classmate and ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Now, the story is in the spotlight again, thanks to the new HBO docu-series “The Case Against Adnan Syed," which details the case and picks up where the podcast left off.

In the year 2000, Syed was sentenced to life behind bars after being convicted of killing Lee, who was found buried in a shallow grave in Baltimore in 1999. He was only a teenager at the time. It's always shocking when someone so young is convicted of such a brutal crime — so what did his high school community think at the time?

Syed is depicted in the docu-series as a former football player and a good student, who was friendly to everyone while attending high school.

“Adnan was tremendously popular and well-liked and well adjusted,” his former classmate Debbie Warren said in the new docu-series.

He was described as confident and, like many teens, obsessed with his appearance at times.

“I was, like, all about my hair,” he said in the docu-series. “I used to use, like, a ton of product.”

Although he was outgoing and popular, he technically wasn’t allowed to hang out with girls because of his Muslim background.

“My mom, she just didn’t want us to date,” he explained in "The Case Against Adnan Syed." “She said no girls.”

Even his female friends weren’t able to call his home, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have them. They’d page him instead or call his cell phone.

Syed’s best friend at the time, Saad Chaudry, said he and Syed  would play loud music and drive around and “do dumb things teenagers do.”

And, he said, they both had girlfriends.

“We weren’t able to have them come over to our house and hang out. However, we were able to hang out with them in school, after school, Friday, Saturday go to the movies and whatnot.”

Even though Syed didn’t respect his mother’s wishes to not have a girlfriend, he still found comfort in his religion. For him, he said that it was more of a “cultural thing” rather than a “religious thing.” He said he enjoyed “hanging out at the mosque, kind of like identifying with my people.”

Then, he asked out the girl who he would later be convicted of killing.

Syed asked Lee to go to the junior prom with him, after he and Chaudry had a competition over who could get the prettiest prom date, according to “Serial.” He and Lee were a magnet program at Woodlawn High School, which was made up of about 30 kids who were bright and motivated.

Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed at junior prom

Lee accepted Syed’s invitation to the prom, and she called him the “sweetest guy” while describing their date together that night.

Her diary entry, detailed in the HBO series, explained how the popular Syed was named prom prince and that another girl, not Lee, was named prom princess.

Lee wrote that she was hurt that Syed and the prom princess danced to KC and JoJo’s “All My Life,” a song she called her song.

“I tried to act normal and unjealous but it did kind of bother me,” she said, adding that she took a picture of her date dancing with another girl and then sat down.

“Ten seconds later, guess who dances with me and not Stephanie? Adnan! Now how can I not fall in love with this guy?”

It was a memorable night for teenage Syed, too.

“I remember our first kiss was at the prom,” Syed recalled, saying it was “one of the best moments of my whole life, like one of the happiest times.”

Lee gushed about Syed and his gestures of love in her diary, like how he once gave her a single rose in physics class.

But because of Syed’s parents, and because Lee’s family wanted to be able to meet who she was dating, they had to keep their relationship a secret. They snuck around, lied to their parents about where they were going so they could spend nights together at motels, and had a system in place so they could talk on the phone.

This situation, in part, led to Lee breaking up with Syed, which he didn’t seem to take well, according to Lee’s diary entries.

After she broke up with him, she wrote him a letter telling him that he wasn’t respectful of her decision to end things.

According to the second episode of “Serial,” Syed and Lee’s friends thought of him as being over-involved in her life while they dated. Sometimes, Syed would show up unannounced at different events, according to Lee’s diary entries. (Syed denied pestering and showing up unannounced to see Lee during his interviews with Sarah Koenig, the host of “Serial.”)

At the time, Lee and her friends allegedly didn't think much of it, though. Instead, Lee typically described such actions in her diary with enthusiasm. 

The prosecution in Syed's trial, however, did not take Syed's tendency to be overbearing lightly. They claim he killed Lee out of jealousy.

The prosecution’s main witness Jay Wilds said that after Lee dumped Syed, Syed told him that she “broke his heart and that it was extremely wrong for anyone to treat him that way and that he couldn’t believe how she stood there and looked him face to face and told him she didn’t love him anymore and be that heartless. He told me, almost jokingly, ‘I think I’m gonna kill her.’”

HBO will begin airing “The Case Against Adnan Syed" on March 10.

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