The Fort Wayne Families of These Murdered Young Sudanese-American Men Are Still Waiting for Justice
Wedad Omar sits solemnly with her hands folded in her lap in her Fort Wayne, IN, home as she describes her 23-year-old brother Mohamedtaha. A friend to everyone he met, Mohamedtaha, whose nickname is Taha, was a vibrant and generous young man with dreams of a movie career in the style of actor Will Smith. “He and his friends would write scripts and make funny videos to entertain everybody. He was so positive. He had so many friends of all ages and cultures,” she explains quietly.
Even though he was a few years younger than Wedad, she looked up to him for strength and guidance during the four years she and her family struggled to endure the Darfur Genocide. Starting in 2003, the Sudanese government militia began to systematically kill innocent Muslim civilians in eastern Sudan. The Omar family was among the hundreds of thousands who fled leaving behind their comfortable middle class life. They escaped on foot through the countryside to outrun daily bombings and brutal militia attacks. The genocide led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the displacement of millions more in refugee camps. These killings continue today.
All through the terror-filled escape, it was Mohmedtaha who remained positive and brave for his family. “He would even make fun of the government and their bombs to keep everyone’s spirits up as we ran from place to place,” Wedad says. During their flight for survival, they sometimes shared a small house with four other families. At other times they dug ditches on the roadside as underground bomb shelters. Four years of starvation, exile and panic later, they immigrated to Fort Wayne, IN, to rebuild their lives.
A New Life and Hope
Once settled in Fort Wayne, the family became an integral part of the growing American-Sudanese refugee community. They enrolled in ESL classes and became fluent in English. Wedad, Mohamedtaha and their brothers completed high school, attended college and found jobs. Again, Wedad says it was Mohamedtaha who give her the courage to face the challenges of building a new life in an unfamiliar country. Mohamedtaha also took on the role of big brother to other immigrants who also were recovering from the traumas of war.
Thanks to his compassionate nature, Mohamedtaha flourished and found friends of all ages and nationalities. He made them feel included and loved through his humor. “He tried to help everybody. I would tell him you can’t help everybody, but he wanted to be an older brother to everyone he knew.”
Tragedy after Escaping Genocide
Mohamedtaha was finishing up his first year of business courses at Ivy Tech when his dreams and his family’s hopes for him came to an end. On February 24, 2016, around 3 p.m., Fort Wayne police were called to a house just down the street to find that Mohmedtaha, his cousin and a close friend had been murdered execution style. Each of the young men had been shot at close range four times in the head.
“I had just talked to Mohamedtaha early that afternoon. He told me he planned to stop by that house to visit friends before doing some errands,” explains Wedad. “Two hours later, he was dead. After all the terrible things we lived through during the war, the fact that he would die here still seems impossible.”
Waiting for Justice
Since that terrible day, Wedad and her family along with other members of the American-Sudanese community in Fort Wayne community say they have not received any explanation beyond the limited details police told them following the first days after the three young men were murdered. They feel forgotten and dismissed by authorities.
Fort Wayne police don’t have any suspects for the murders, which the police state are not a hate crime. But members of the American-Sudanese community ask how such brutal, execution style murders could not be classified as a hate crime.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights advocacy group, has stepped in to say that it was “monitoring the investigation,” and closely watching investigation developments.
Following the murders, a few American-Sudanese community members have uprooted their families again and moved out of Indiana. Other families also are talking about relocating. Wedad, although clearly frightened, says she and her family will stay. “We are not interested in revenge, but we need answers,” she insists. “We need to see my brother’s killers arrested. We need to know why my brother, who was so kind and full of love for everyone, was murdered and in such a vicious way. We are still waiting for justice.”
A Mother’s Plea for Justice
The anguish of Wedad’s and Mohamedtaha’s mother is heartbreaking to witness. Her face is tear-stained and heavy with pain. “There is nothing worse than losing a child,” she says. “My Taha is a loving and respectful young man. He was my backbone when things got difficult. He always made me feel hopeful. He would say, ‘Mom, don’t worry about anything. I can fix everything for you.’
“Even though he is my child, I learned a lot about love and forgiveness from him,” she says. “Taha loved people unconditionally and with no judgments. It is very difficult for me to live in this world without my son, but I pray and ask God to give me the strength to carry on and to find justice for my son. He didn’t deserve to have this hateful crime committed against him.
“Someone murdered Taha and his cousin and his friend. These young men were all very nice young people who did not deserve to have this happen to them. They were just starting to realize their dreams. Taha wanted to be an actor and a businessman. His cousin Muhanned wanted to become a pilot. His friend Adam wanted to become a doctor. None of those dreams can be realized now,” she says. “I want the U.S. government to use all their tools to find the killers and to bring them to justice.”