SAN DIEGO — The pain of losing her best friend of 15 years is still so very raw for Cassie Conroy. She still remembers getting the phone call that changed everything in October.
“I didn’t believe it for a good hour, I didn’t believe it,” she says. “There was a shooting over in East Village and I said ‘wait, you don’t know, you don’t know.’ I texted Ana immediately. This is four days before my birthday. Me and Ana were just talking. She just texted me, what are we gonna do for your birthday in four days.”
Conroy didn’t yet know her best friend Ana Abulaban and another mutual friend Rayburn Barron were already dead. The suspect is Ana’s estranged husband, Ali Abulaban, well-known on TikTok for his impersonations of violent characters, like his favorite one, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana from “Scarface.”
Conroy grew up with Ana. They bonded over living on a United States military base in Japan. That’s where they first met Ali seven years ago.
“Ana’s such a genuine person. I went to high school with her, you know, did everything we did as a kid homecoming, all that, graduating, meet a couple people, I’ve been there when she’s dated other people. Met this guy,” says Conroy, referring to Ali, as she shakes her head and starts crying.
Conroy says Ali was in the military but was later kicked out. He confirmed this detail when FOX 5 spoke to him in jail. Conroy says she tolerated Ali for Ana’s sake, but describes him as being obsessed with Ana.
“I was calling her phone, calling it, calling it, calling it, calling it, and this is when she just started dating Ali. He answers her phone. It was just really weird for me,” recounts Conroy. “He’s like, ‘do you mind, Cassie?’ and I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I was calling Ana’s phone, I didn’t expect to talk to you, Ali.’ ”
Conroy is speaking publicly for the first time since Ana and Barron’s deaths, with Ana’s family’s blessing. She calls Ana a genuine and outgoing person, who Conroy considered family.
“You know, we’re family, you can tell me anything you’re going through,” says Conroy. “Whenever we need something outside of everyday life … we always go back to each other and say hey man, a little piece of home, like relax, I got you.”
Conroy wants to tell Ana’s story, particularly after watching Ali’s jailhouse interview in which he blamed Ana’s partying for their marriage falling apart. Conroy repeatedly called Ali’s story false, as she describes her perspective and past interactions with him.
“He’s all about the highlife. He wants to be on his high horse. He talks over people, he interrupts people when he walks into groups. Talks about, ‘do you have me on Instagram, I have a blue check on mine, do you know who I am?’ type of person,” says Conroy.
Conroy explains Ana was trying to leave the marriage but was afraid of what Ali would do. Conroy says Ali is aggressive and self-obsessed and recalls seeing him with a gun.
“When we would be hanging out as a group of friends, Ali would get caught up talking about himself,” recounts Conroy. “’Check out my blue checkmark’ this and that and he would joke around cause he carries his gun on him. He carries his gun on him wherever he goes,” Conroy continues.
“He’s over here like, ‘let’s shoot up. You want to drive around and shoot up the place?’” recounts Conroy, imitating Ali. “We’re all like, ‘What? No.’ And he’s like, ‘No I’m just joking, I’m just joking,’ and we’re like, ‘Ali, that’s not a joke dude. We don’t joke like that.’”
Prosecutors say Ali was arrested with a gun in the car, along with his 5-year-old daughter, shortly after Ana and Barron were found dead.
Now as Ali sits behind bars, waiting to see how it all plays out in court, both families grieve their loss. Conroy remembers her best friend simply as a beautiful person inside and out.