Andrew Charles survives with help from God and family

Jeremy Pasker | 7/24/2014, 2:26 p.m.

If you met Andrew Charles, you’d first notice how young he looks. He is 26 but looks about eight years younger. If you looked deeper, though, into his eyes, you’d realize that something was amiss, as if a weight were pressing down on him.

Back in 2008, Charles was beaten by a group of men, who were a part of a local Crown Heights Jewish “street patrol team” called Shmira. The police and the district attorney believe Yitzchak Shuchat, who fled to Israel by way of Canada right after the assault, to be one of those responsible. It has taken six years to extradite him back to the United States to face his accusers in court. In 2011, an Israeli court ruled to extradite Shuchat, although he wasn’t flown back to New York until now because he was allowed an appeal.

The Amsterdam News was allowed access to Charles and his mother as they drove from their home in Crown Heights to Chelsea in Manhattan for an interview on the NY1 news show “Inside City Hall.”

For the entire length of the interview, Charles barely smiled and rarely made eye contact. It was difficult to get him to open up about his present condition until we reminisced about how he used to be, how his life was different before it was traumatically altered six years ago.

In high school, Charles was one of the popular kids, always with a group of friends, clowning and enjoying his youth. In those days, he was a zestful participant in life, joining his school’s baseball and bowling teams, even having the ambition to try out, albeit unsuccessfully, for the basketball team.

Charles engaged completely during his high school years. His favorite subjects were sciences, Earth science in particular. “I was always curious of how the world works,” he said.

He recounted his love of learning about how the solar system functions, about the Earth’s air, water and volcanic cycles, all of it. He thought that the many changes the Earth has gone through were incredible.

That imagination led Charles to enroll in college to study graphic design. His intention had always been to be an artist. Many of his illustrations, drawn before the 2008 assault, hang in his home. “They’re pretty good,” his mom, Wendy Craigg, sitting beside him, said.

When Charles talked about his old art portfolio from high school, a modest glimmer appeared in his eyes. And the more he spoke about his former passion, his former aspiration, his face slowly evolved from an almost grim countenance into a face with a crescent smile.

That was the old Charles, before what two Brooklyn district attorneys have labeled a hate crime. He’s been trying to recapture his former self ever since. There were other glimpses of that former self when he spoke about his sister, his relationship with his mother and his reliance on God to give him the resolve to continue fighting during these past six years.

Charles’ sister has anchored him to the bit of normalcy that’s left. She has become all that he once was. “My sister is smart; she’s determined; she’s independent,” Charles stated with a rare grin on his face. “We talk about life and what it was like when we were younger.”

His mother comforts him the best she can. “I remind Andrew not to give up hope,” she said, “that there is a higher power and nothing goes unpaid. No matter how long it takes [people who do wrong] will pay for what they did.”

Charles sees a therapist now. He spends most of his time alone though, with his thoughts, and jogging. Exercise is an attempt to recapture a bit of his lost confidence. And he doesn’t draw anymore.

The assault by those men stole six years of his life. “I’m disappointed; I’m heartbroken,” he repeated. He asked rhetorically, “What could have been if this never happened?”

Charles left college after the attack. He could hardly concentrate in class and on his course work. “I was always distracted [so] I couldn’t focus,” he revealed, “[then] I withdrew myself from the world.”

Even though Shuchat has finally been brought back from Israel, the next chapter of Charles’ public ordeal will not begin until Aug. 18, the next time Shuchat is to appear in court. Bail has been set at $300,000.