ROCHESTER – The teenager shot to death Sunday after a confrontation with another driver here over a minor fender-bender was part of a tight-knit Iraqi family whose members fled their homeland six years ago for a safer life in the United States.
Abdulwahhab Kareem, father of Muhammed Rahim, the slain 17-year-old, said Tuesday that he can't understand how his family found tragedy in what he called the safest city in the world. They left their war-torn home in 2012 due to threats that shadowed them because of their work for the U.S. government, he said.
"This accident happened for nothing," Kareem said. "A car accident happened. This is the business of the insurance company. But somehow in the safest place in the world, and the safest place in the U.S., I lost my life. I lost my son."
A 25-year-old Rochester man was arrested at the shooting scene on suspicion of second-degree murder and remains in jail. Rochester police Capt. John Sherwin said he anticipates charges being filed in the case as soon as Wednesday morning. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.
The man has a permit to carry a firearm and used his 9-millimeter handgun to shoot Rahim once at close range, police said. A friend of Rahim's who was in his car told police that Rahim dared the man to shoot him after the collision. The man told police at the time of his arrest that he acted in self-defense after fearing that his life was in danger.
The shooting took place about 8:20 a.m. Sunday after Rahim tried to make a right turn from East River Road onto 31st Street NE. and slid into a ditch. The man in the other vehicle took evasive action and was almost hit by Rahim's car, police said.
Rahim reversed out of the ditch and hit the man's vehicle. Rahim and one of his passengers got out and confronted the man, Sherwin said.
The man warned Rahim that he had a gun, according to police, but it's not clear if the two men had any physical contact before the shooting.
"There was no physical assault, and by that I mean punches thrown," Sherwin said Tuesday.
Noah Dukart, one of three passengers with Rahim who gave an on-camera interview at the scene to KTTC-TV in Rochester, said, "The guy who we hit wanted to fight. My friend got in his face, and then the guy we hit pulled a gun out, and then my friend said, 'I dare you,' and he shot him right in the heart, and I watched him bleed out."
The shooter called police after opening fire.
Sherwin said state law requires "a pretty high standard" for a legitimate claim of self-defense in such situations. At a briefing Tuesday, he distributed copies of the "Justifiable Taking of Life" statute. It says that a person can respond with deadly force when faced with "great bodily harm or death or [when] preventing the commission of a felony in the [person's] place of abode."
The captain said it's not unusual for police "to hear a claim of self-defense" from suspects. He added, "Just because you make a claim doesn't mean it's legitimate."
Based on the investigation so far, Sherwin said he believed the suspect should be charged, but said the final decision rests with prosecutors.
In the days since the shooting, Kareem said, hundreds of people have stopped to visit his family's home to grieve. Fighting back tears Tuesday afternoon, he said the loss of his son has turned his life upside down.
"He was lovely," Kareem said of Muhammed. "He was friendly."
He said his wife worked for the U.S. government in their home city of Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, but by 2012 threats against their family had made life there too dangerous. He and his wife have three children, including a son and daughter in addition to Muhammed, their middle child.
Now, he said, their life feels worse than anything they experienced back home.
"One guy, like a cold-blooded killer, he killed my son," Kareem said. "He's no human. He's an animal."
Kareem said he hopes his family gets justice, but said he doesn't have much information about what's happening in the case. He said he would be worried if the shooter went free.
"I hope the law and the judge come to look at my family, how we're broken, how we lost the future," he said.