They were just teenagers from a very foreign culture passing a cold winter afternoon in a very American way, cruising the streets of their neighborhood in a big red Crown Vic -- of course -- the car of taxi hacks and movie cops. Three Somali boys, getting a chance in the promised land, but looking for trouble.
"When we get up each morning, we never know what lies ahead," said Hennepin County Attorney Robert Streitz during closing arguments Thursday in the triple homicide in the Seward neighborhood last year. "Seemingly normal events may be anything but."
Nobody foresaw what would happen that day in just 62 seconds, less time than it takes to toast bread.
In 62 seconds: Bullets riddled the inside of a grocery store, one passing through a man's throat, another severing a man's brain stem. Three men died, four children lost their father, one newlywed bride was left widowed in Africa, one future bride lost her husband, a community of immigrants was shaken and a neighborhood was sent into mourning.
If you believe in evil, those 62 seconds were moments of premeditated, cold-blooded hell. If you believe the defense attorney, they were the random, irrational reactions of frightened kids; "the teenaged brain ... acting in its most animalistic way."
For the defendants, seemingly normal events were anything but.
At 2:12 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2010, Mahdi Hassan Ali picked up his buddies, Ahmed Ali and Abdisalan Ali. They went to an outlet store, where Abdisalan stole a new Sean Jean jacket.
Then they tried to get Ali's car out of the impound lot, but didn't have enough money. It was 4:48 p.m.
At 6:29 p.m., when most kids are home eating supper, Mahdi and Ahmed walked into the Dahab-Shil money transfer outlet near Franklin and Nicollet, intending to rob it. They were on a "mission" that could only be described as the product of that teenage brain: to steal money and free Mahdi's car from the impound lot.
The first of several twists of fate came at Dahab-Shil. A young woman at an adjacent travel store saw the boys behaving suspiciously and alerted the manager of the money transfer, who went to confront them.
So they fled.
The store's owner, Mohammed Nor, realizes that their good fortune was another's end.
"Really very, very much," Nor said Friday. "I was feeling lucky that [my employees] were all safe."
Nor was one of many Somalians who stepped forward to help police after the killings. "I called the police and gave them the video tapes," said Nor. Those tapes would be instrumental in helping authorities identify which of the defendants wore the killer's clothes, particularly the stone-washed jeans that Mahdi, for some reason, would not throw away.
Nor has been in the United States for 17 years and says he has learned to trust police and the court system. "I have gotten tickets, but it was not because I was African, but because I did something wrong," he said.
Around 7:20 p.m., Seward Market manager Jamal Hassan joked with an employee, Osman Elmi, about his ongoing promise to travel to Africa and get married. "You always say that," Hassan teased. "It was a running joke."
This time, said Elmi, it was real. He was buying a ticket in November.
Elmi never got that chance.
Anwar Mohammed was there, too. Anwar was described as a "people person" and "cuddly." He was on his way to visit his grandmother, in her 90s, and stopped to buy her groceries. Mohammed had a reputation for doing good deeds for people.
"Do you ever have an off day in your life?" Hassan had asked him.
Anwar Mohammed would never see his grandmother again.
Hassan left for home, another of the fortunate few who avoided the horrific 62 seconds at Seward Market. But he would lose his friends. He didn't get far before his phone rang: "The boys are dead," said the caller.
At 7:40 the door burst open and the shooting began. Jamiila Ahmed was buying coffee but ducked into the walk-in cooler. "I'm in the frozen," she said during her 911 call.
During a break in the trial this week, Jamiila Ahmed sat alone in a cafeteria, looking fatigued. I asked her if she felt lucky. Shyly, she shook her head: Yes.
"It's been very hard," she said.
We get up each morning, not knowing what lies ahead, whether one minute will turn our lives this way, or that.
While the jury was deciding to convict Mahdi Hassan Ali of intentional murder, customers came and went at the Seward Market. The cashier said that in the past month, volunteers from the neighborhood painted a colorful mural on the store's outside wall, in support.
I asked him if business was good. "Yes," he said. "Business has been very good."
On Friday, money transfer owner Nor reflected on the impact on his community.
"We came together after the assassinations," said Nor. "But lately there have been some conflicts because of tribe affiliations. We all support the victim, but people should come together to get bad people off the street. We have to support law enforcement if we are going to stop this."
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