Bilha K. Omare lived in fear of her husband for years. According to a police report on a 911 call she made in late 2008, he had abused her and made threats on her life, crimes that earned him three days in jail and a year on probation.
On Wednesday, police found Omare and two of the couple's three children dead in their Vadnais Heights apartment. Her body was in a bathroom; Ivyn Ogendi, 9, and Kinley Ogendi, 12, were in separate rooms with the doors closed.
Their 3-year-old sister was found later, in a car with their father, Justus O. Kebabe, 43, who was arrested after running out of gas on Interstate 35 near Faribault. Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said on Thursday that Kebabe told officers he had killed his wife and two children. Charges are expected to be filed on Friday.
Kebabe's only prior contact with police was in December 2008, when he was arrested for misdemeanor domestic assault. The 2008 police report said that Kebabe came to the United States from Kenya in 1996 and that Omare followed in 2003.
Omare, 32, told deputies in 2008 that Kebabe "has threatened to kill her numerous times in the past" and "that Kebabe is more careful with the physical assaults in the USA than in Kenya.
"In Kenya, he has beaten her unconscious," the report said.
Six months after the 2008 assault, Kebabe pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, served three days in jail and was on probation for a year. After completing a six-week domestic abuse class, he was discharged from probation last Aug. 25.
Fletcher said a relative called on Wednesday concerned about Kebabe's "erratic behavior" and "worried that he was a danger to himself or others." Deputies went to the couple's third-floor apartment in the Willow Ridge Apartments in the 1200 block of County Road D at 11:45 p.m.
'Beautiful, caring children'
Fletcher said it appeared likely that Omare had been dead "for some time." The children appeared to have been killed more recently.
Omare had not been at work all week; the children had been reported sick and were not in school this week, Fletcher said.
Amanda Sjostrand, assistant manager of the apartment building, lived next door to Omare and Kebabe. She said the children attended Willow Lane Elementary School in White Bear Lake.
Sjostrand said that she didn't know the adults well but that her children, 5 and 2, played with theirs. They were "just beautiful, beautiful, caring children," she said. "They were always taking care of my little one. They were just well-raised children. They had gorgeous hearts."
Vadnais Heights Mayor Sue Banovetz brought a bouquet of flowers to the apartment building on Thursday morning. She said Fletcher called her at 3 a.m. Thursday to tell her what had happened. "I felt physically ill," she said, wiping away tears at a morning news conference. "It's a very sad day in our community for this family and for the loss of a mother and two of her children.
"I would plead with anybody who is suffering, even a small bit in a home where there's domestic violence, to please reach out for help," Banovetz said.
'Yelling and cursing'
Omare had reached out for help on that December evening nearly two years ago. Kebabe apparently was upset that Omare had called him from work because her car wouldn't start. When he arrived, the car started, but he was "yelling and cursing at her" when she got home because "apparently she didn't get there soon enough," the 2008 police report said.
Omare told deputies that Kebabe picked up a vacuum cleaner and threatened to hit her with it, the report said. When she went to call police, he grabbed her shirt and pushed her across the room.
"Kebabe told Omare that she relied on the police too much and then stated, 'When I get home, I'll kill you,' " the report said.
"By what Omare describes, she is living with serious ... abuse on a daily basis," it said.
Although the threat could have elevated the domestic assault charge to a felony, Paul Gustafson, a spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney's office, said on Thursday that there is no indication that the case was presented to county prosecutors.
Vadnais Heights City Attorney Caroline Bell Becker said, "Somebody made the initial charging decision and determined it was a misdemeanor.
"I know we had contact with [Omare]," Bell Becker said. "We had communication with the victim. We have to look at what the reports say, but also what the victim and any independent witnesses are telling us too."
"In 22 years of doing this, that's the first time I've lost a victim. It's not a good day," she said.
According to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women's annual "femicide" report, at least 12 women were killed in domestic abuse incidents in 2009.
That number is down from 23 in the state in 2008 and 22 in 2007.
"It's hard to believe this can still happen, but it does," said Rebecca McLane, operations manager for St. Paul Intervention. "We can't sit still. We need to be ever-vigilant."
Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992