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Shocked Boise refugees, sympathizers come together fast after mass stabbing

A crowd gathered at the Imam Hussain Islamic Center on Orchard Street on Sunday evening listens during a service devoted to the victim's of Saturday evening's stabbings at an apartment complex off State Street. Several speakers thanked the community for its outpouring of support. (John Sowell / Idaho Statesman)
A crowd gathered at the Imam Hussain Islamic Center on Orchard Street on Sunday evening listens during a service devoted to the victim's of Saturday evening's stabbings at an apartment complex off State Street. Several speakers thanked the community for its outpouring of support. (John Sowell / Idaho Statesman)

Refugees and other Boiseans shocked by Saturday’s knife attack on refugee children and adults responded quickly Sunday by organizing a rally, attending a prayer service and raising funds for the victims.

At least a hundred people were still gathered late Sunday afternoon on a State Street corner adjoining the Wylie Street Station Apartments, the low-income apartment complex where six children and nine adults were injured the night before. They had rallied for almost two hours, with chanters and watchers coming and going.

“We want to show the families that we are standing beside them,” said Hanan Alsayagh, 21, an Iraqi refugee who lives near the apartment complex, as several dozen people chanted at State Street and Wylie Lane.

More than 200 people attended a prayer gathering Sunday evening at the Imam Hussain Islamic Center on Orchard Street. Members, neighbors, teachers and counselors of the injured children and others came to express their sadness and to pray.

“We are here to support the families and to let them know we are here for them,” said Asaad Alassadi, the imam.

A vigil at Boise City Hall is planned Monday night.

Police say the attacker was a 30-year-old Los Angeles man who had been staying at an apartment in the complex but was booted out Friday because of his behavior. Among those he is accused of injuring was a 3-year-old girl at her birthday party. All nine victims remained hospitalized Sunday.

‘A place of love … until yesterday’

At the rally near where the attack took place, Fidel Nshombo, Idaho representative for the Refugee Congress, a national advocacy group, led call-and-response chants like “What do we want?” “Safety!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” as cars drove by.

Nshombo was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, emigrated as a boy in 1998 with his family to Zimbabwe, later received refugee status in the United States, and settled in Boise in 2006. He is a U.S. citizen, married, a father of five daughters.

“When I came here, I was happy that this is where I would raise my kids,” he said in an interview. “A place of love, peace and stability. That’s what I called Idaho for the 11 years I have lived here. Until yesterday. …

“I felt how defenseless those kids were, and how their parents felt they couldn’t protect them in those moments. … I had to come and support them and be part of this.”

One man who watched the rally, Dhafer Alfutayhi, said he came from the Middle East to study at Boise State University. He said he has served at times as an interpreter at the Wylie Street apartments.

“I love these refugees,” Alfutayhi said. “The communities of Boise, the people here, are supportive of refugees. The extreme vetting of refugees should be lifted. I don’t see those people being hurtful to anyone.”

He was referring to President Donald Trump’s efforts to curb immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries. The attacks rekindled debate about those efforts on social media.

‘My mom is dying,’ said a girl who was stabbed

At the prayer gathering, Boise resident Anmar Lafta said he was trying to make sense of what happened. Two of the girls who were stabbed, ages 5 and 7, are relatives of his.

“It’s hard to believe this would happen in Boise,” he said. “He attacked children. Why did he do that? What did he want?”

Thaaer Muhammad, 43, said he came to the apartment complex Saturday night to find a girl, a friend of his daughter, in shock. It took her a few minutes before she could speak, he said. “My mom is dying,” he said the girl finally told him. He then noticed the girl had also been stabbed.

He said he came from a small village in Iraq and saw a lot of violence, but nothing like this. “In all of those wars in all of those years in Iraq, I never saw anyone kill a child,” Muhammad said.

Imam Asaad Alassadi offers a prayer during a service Sunday evening at the Imam Hussain Islamic Center. He called Boise "very welcoming" for refugees and said Saturday night's attack doesn't change that. "We are going to keep building this city because we are part of this city." (John Sowell / Idaho Statesman)
Imam Asaad Alassadi offers a prayer during a service Sunday evening at the Imam Hussain Islamic Center. He called Boise "very welcoming" for refugees and said Saturday night's attack doesn't change that. "We are going to keep building this city because we are part of this city." (John Sowell / Idaho Statesman)

Refugees ‘experience violence all over again’

Megan Schwab, community engagement specialist for the International Rescue Committee in Boise, said the attack does not reflect on “the tremendous, welcoming nature of the Boise community” that the committee has worked closely with since it opened in 2006.

“It is heartbreaking to know that people and children who fled horrors of war and conflict to find safety in America, and the Boise community, had to experience this violence all over again,” Schwab said at a news conference with Mayor David Bieter and Boise Police Chief Bill Bones.

She encouraged people who want to support the victims to come to a vigil at 6 p.m. Monday at Boise City Hall. Donations can be made at rescue.org/Boise.

The apartment complex is managed by Northwest Real Estate Capital Corp., which issued a statement Monday.

“This was a tragic and senseless crime committed against innocent children and families celebrating. Our prayers and support are with the families in our community,” the property manager said. “We are working to provide counseling services, restoration and any other support our community and families need during this difficult time.

“If you would like to support these families, we are working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), they have established a donation page on their website.

Other political leaders denounced the attack. U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, tweeted: “Violence against our neighbors is unacceptable in all forms and I call on all of us to condemn this act of violence.”

Last night’s horrific attack does not represent Boise. Please join me in praying for the injured and their families. We must come together to condemn this vile act.

Boisean Celeste Dimas has started a GoFundMe to support the victims.

“My heart is in pieces for our community,” Dimas said. “Boise is a welcoming place, we love people. Refugees leave their mother lands in search of safety and they should be safe here. There is no place for evil here.”