A friend of the three young African immigrants who were murdered in Indiana last week told BuzzFeed News on Monday that the killings were not a hate crime and may have started during a round of gambling.
The three men — Taha Omar, 23, Adam Mekki, 20, and Muhannad Tairab, 17 — were found dead on Wednesday in a house near downtown Fort Wayne. Rusty York, the city’s public safety director, told the local ABC affiliate that the three men had been killed “execution style.” He added that the murders took at what he called “a party house” that had previously come to the attention of the local police department's gang and violent crimes unit.
The victims came from Fort Wayne’s large northeast African diaspora, several people who knew them told BuzzFeed News. Some media outlets reported that the three of them were black Muslim Americans — quoting activists who expressed concern that the murders may have been motivated by hate. The reports came at a time of heightened anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. The Center for American Islamic Relations, a nonprofit that tracks incidents of Islamophobia, said in a statement that it was monitoring the investigation.
But interviews with people close the victims, some of whom asked not to be named, suggest a different story than what has been reported. Two of the victims were Sunni Muslims, and one of them — Mekki — was a Nubian Christian, all the sources said. The house where they died was a place where young people congregated to have fun — but also a refuge of sorts for people who had nowhere to go.
And, one person said, the crime may have been motivated by a dice game gone wrong. On the day of the murders, a person with knowledge of the situation told BuzzFeed News, the three victims had gambled for money with a group of people who didn’t live in the house.
A spokesperson for the Fort Wayne Police Department declined to comment, only saying he would refer the information about the dice game to the detectives investigating the case. BuzzFeed News also reached out to York. Previously, the local authorities have said they had not found any indication that the murders were a hate crime.
Tairab lived with his stepbrother, Mohamed Izadine, for three years after arriving from Sudan, Izadine told BuzzFeed News.
Izadine — who was also friends with the other two victims — added that Tairab later moved to the house where the murders took place, where Omar already lived. It was not a “party house.” The building, he said, belonged to the family of another friend who was not among those killed.
Several young men with roots in East Africa lived at the house, Izadine said, all for different reasons. Tairab and his older brother lived there because their mother lives in Sudan and their father is a truck driver, which meant they had “nowhere else to go.” Omar lived there because he was “more free and more welcome” at the house than at his family’s home.
Mekki, on the other hand, lived with his girlfriend in a different apartment and “almost never” went to the house, Izadine said.
But, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because he didn't want to get in trouble with the police, he did go to the house on the day of the murders.
“Adam Mekki came to the house with some money that day — I won’t say how much," the person told BuzzFeed News, adding that a few people who didn't live in the house knew about the money. “And also he was shooting dice that day with an African-American.”
Motasim Adam, an activist who founded the Darfur People’s Association of New York, said he traveled to Indiana to pay his respects to the victims’ families. He said the families provided him with a timeline of the events that roughly matches what the person with knowledge of the situation told BuzzFeed News.
On the day of the murders, Adam said, two people who did not live in the house came to visit. Then, around 4 p.m., one of the residents of the house went to the barbershop. When he came back to the house, around 45 minutes later, the two people who’d come to visit were gone — and two residents of the house and a third person were dead.
“He found two of them in a bedroom and one by the door,” Adam said. “I don’t think this is a hate crime.”
Kassandra Layne, Mekki’s girlfriend, told BuzzFeed News on Monday that she was attending his funeral. She added that she did not think her boyfriend’s death had been motivated by religious or ethnic hatred.
“The [story about the murders being] a hate crime due to religion is wrong,” Layne told BuzzFeed News. “Adam was very sweet, and he was not a gang member.”
Izadine also said he didn’t think the murders had been a hate crime.
“Their deaths had nothing to do with religion or politics,” Izadine said. “And they were not in any kind of gang at all.”
Instead, Izadine said, the three were good people trying to live their lives as best as they could. Tairab loved nature and would often take in stray animals. Mekki loved soccer and basketball and spent the summers volunteering at a youth program. And Omar dreamed of becoming a rapper, or at least of getting famous on Instagram.
Two days after the murders, Izadine was finally able to go to the crime scene. The bodies were gone by then — but he said the mattress where one of the victims had been shot was still there, covered in blood.
Izadine took out his cell phone and recorded a short video of the scene.
“Bro, three of my brothers.” he wrote in the caption when he posted the clip to Snapchat. “Killed in cold blood.”
Finding Tairab's and Mekki’s blood in the bedroom had been especially painful, Izadine said, because he’d spent so much time in that room.
“He was just so welcoming of all of us,” he said of his murdered friend. “He sat us down in his room.”