‘Disgruntled’ Patient Charged With Killing Dentist, Injuring 2 Employees

Murder charges were filed Tuesday against a “disgruntled” former patient in a  Feb. 29 shooting at a California dental office that killed a dentist and injured two others, the San Diego County district attorney announced Tuesday.

El Cajon resident Mohammed Abdulkareem, 29, pleaded not guilty to one count of murder and two counts of premeditated attempted murder. He is being held without bail.

Dr. Benjamin Ariel Harouni, 28, suffered multiple gunshot wounds when Abdulkareem allegedly “burst into” the Smile Plus Dentistry office in El Cajon at abut 4:15 p.m. on Feb. 29 and fired at least 23 shots with a semiautomatic handgun, authorities said. Harouni died at the scene.

Dr. Benjamin Ariel Harouni, 28, was killed at his San Diego dental practice Feb. 29 by a
Dr. Benjamin Ariel Harouni, 28, was killed at his San Diego dental practice Feb. 29 by a "disgruntled" former patient, authorities said. Jake Harouni / GoFundMe

Two other employees were also injured in the shooting, authorities said, but were in stable condition.

Office manager George Issaian was shot five times, his wife, Abby Issaian, told NBC 7. She said Abdulkareem began to “terrorize” her husband’s office in 2022, repeatedly visiting to complain about the dental treatments he received from Harouni.

Administrative assistant Yareli Carrillo was identified by her father as the second injured employee. His daughter, 27, was shot in the legs, he told NBC 7

After the shooting, Abdulkareem fled in a rented truck he had parked nearby, authorities said. He was arrested later that evening by Balboa Park.

Five days before the shooting, Abdulkareem legally purchased a handgun “consistent” with the one used in the killing, authorities said. A loaded semiautomatic handgun and ammunition were found in his possession when he was arrested, investigators said.

The district attorney’s office said the investigation is ongoing. Its hate crimes team is assisting in reviewing “all possible motives” for the killing of Harouni, who was Jewish. The office did not immediately provide any evidence that antisemitic bias may have been involved, but noted that Abdulkareem could face additional charges in the future if such evidence is found.

In a March 1 statement, the Jewish Federation of San Diego called the killing a “senseless act of violence” but said at this point there is “nothing to suggest that this incident was a hate crime, and authorities have not indicated that hate or prejudice were motivating factors in this devastating event.”

On March 2, the Anti-Defamation League’s San Diego chapter released a statement saying that antisemitism should be considered as a possible motive due to the “heightened threat level facing the Jewish community.”

Harouni’s family, who is originally from Iran, is organizing a charity called Hearts Over Hate to support other families affected by violent crime, his brother said in a GoFundMe post.

“Ben made the people around him smile, that is all he wanted to do,” Jake Harouni wrote. 

“He dedicated his life to helping others, from every walk of life. He had millions of smiles left to make. He was taken too soon.”

Abdulkareem faces life in prison if he is convicted of all charges. His next court date is March 12.