Somali refugee Abdullahi Mohamed — critically wounded in a high-profile police shooting in Salt Lake City last month — fled to the U.S. from a refugee camp, where food was scarce, scorpions scurried everywhere and a toilet was a hole in the ground.
The 17-year-old’s family settled in Utah, hoping for a better life.
But things took a turn and he began to get in trouble with police, cousin Muslima Aden said, after his beloved grandfather suffered a brain injury in a car accident.
She remembered the family’s hopeful journey from a makeshift home with sand walls at a refugee camp in Kenya to Salt Lake City, where the teenager is now hospitalized. Police have said that Mohamed was shot when he would not obey commands to drop a metal stick being used to beat a man.
It was near-constant violence in Somalia that drove the family to flee to the refugee camp, Aden said. There, they lived in homes with a single bed, cracking sand walls and metal roofs that would fly off with the wind.
“You’re pretty much fighting for survival,” Aden said. “We actually came to America to have better life.”
The families arrived in Salt Lake City in 2004 when she was 5 and Mohamed was 6. Here, she saw grass and snow for the first time.
“It was better, because we had water, we had food, we had electricity,” she said. “We actually had light in the house.”
While the young cousins picked up English within a few years, learning a new, written language was more difficult for their parents and making ends meet was sometimes tough. Mohamed’s family briefly stayed at a Salt Lake City homeless shelter when money was tight, Aden said.
In a city that’s home to the headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, their Muslim faith stood out. Aden remembers classmates staring at her when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks came up in school.
“They look at us like they’re disappointed,” she said. “I am Muslim, and I know what we’re practicing. It’s peace.”
Yeah, tell it to the millions dead in the cause of Islam.
The family joined a relatively large refugee population in Salt Lake City, where a healthy economy and LDS Church outreach programs can make it easier for people fleeing war-torn countries to find jobs and transition into life in the U.S.
The cousins made friends. When they were old enough to work, they helped send money to family back in Africa.
Mohamed’s life took a detour, Aden said, after the accident left his grandfather, who was a father figure, unable to remember his grandchildren.
Mohamed started getting in trouble with police at age 12, according to court records. He spent time in juvenile detention centers for theft, trespass and assault, most recently in September.
None of that prepared his family for the news that he had been shot by police.
Police say Mohamed and a second person were beating a man with metal sticks when officers intervened Feb. 27. The officers fired after Mohamed moved toward the beaten man instead of immediately obeying a command to drop the stick, police said.
But Aden said she’s heard a different version from friends who were at the scene. She said that the man said something that started an argument, and the two were preparing to fight with halves of a broomstick that Mohamed broke when police arrived.