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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘You can feel him’: Father remembers Kent teen killed by off-duty guard

A makeshift memorial honoring Kent-Meridian High School students Hazrat Ali Rohani and Cristopher Yahir Medina Zelaya remains on the school grounds on Wednesday. Rohani was shot and killed June 5 outside of the Big 5 Sporting Goods in Renton. Zelaya was found dead near the school two days prior.   (Nick Wagner/Seattle Times)
By Catalina Gaitán Seattle Times

Hazrat Ali Rohani didn’t smoke or drink or swear.

When the junior wasn’t at Kent-Meridian High School, he was helping customers at his father’s clothing store in Kent or watching over his five younger siblings, his father, Jamaluddin Rohani, said Tuesday.

His son’s death on June 5 after an off-duty security guard from Newcastle allegedly shot and killed the 17-year-old outside a Renton strip mall ripped away more than Jamaluddin Rohani’s child – it stole his friend and supporter and his family’s champion.

Jamaluddin Rohani said it was too soon to discuss his son’s alleged killer, 51-year-old Aaron Brown Myers. But Rohani’s death has also shaken the school’s community, which lost another student to gun violence just two days prior, and baffled some workers at the mall who were told to remain inside while police investigated a homicide steps away from their storefronts.

“He was like a king of my house,” Jamaluddin Rohani said. “If you come to my house, you can feel him – I can’t describe it, how (his siblings are) mad, how they’re unhappy, how they miss him.”

King County prosecutors said Myers pointed his gun at three 17-year-old boys, including Hazrat Ali Rohani, after mistakenly suspecting the trio was about to stage an armed robbery at a Renton Big 5 Sporting Goods store.

The boys were heading into the store that night to return a malfunctioning airsoft gun, court records show.

Myers allegedly tackled one of the boys before shooting Rohani at least seven times. The teenager dropped to the ground, clutching his abdomen and calling out for his mother, according to a probable cause affidavit.

He died from multiple gunshot wounds, according to the King County medical examiner.

Hazrat Ali Rohani’s killing marked the second Kent-Meridian High School student to die within three days.

Kent police found 18-year-old Cristopher Yahir Medina Zelaya dead with a gunshot wound to his head in a parking lot near campus on June 3. No arrests have been made in that case, which King County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined to be a homicide.

Kent School District representatives and Kent-Meridian High School Principal David Radford did not respond Tuesday to questions about how they may be supporting students after the back-to-back deaths.

“Our hearts go out to these families during this difficult time of loss,” the district wrote in a statement Monday. “We are keeping this family and friends in our thoughts as well as our Kent-Meridian students and staff.”

The sun blazed down on Kent-Meridian High School’s quiet campus on Wednesday, two days before their final day of school, where the words, “Congrats class of 2024” were woven in blue lettering into a chain-link fence bordering the school’s parking lot.

A poster signed by teachers and classmates was taped to the exterior of a school building, bearing the words, “Forever royal, Cris, Ali.” Messages like, “No more gun violence,” “World would be a better place without guns,” and “I will miss seeing you walk into class every day” filled the poster.

White roses and blooms in yellow and blue covered the base of a nearby statue of a lion, the school’s mascot, alongside blue and white prayer candles.

In the parking lot, 24-year-old Jay Smith waited for his younger sister to finish registering for her senior year classes.

“It’s just a sad situation, knowing that another kid passed away – a kid younger than me, that didn’t get to graduate,” he said. “I hate to say it, but it can happen anywhere, and being more cautious doesn’t work.”

No remnants from last week’s crime scene remained outside the Renton Big 5 Sporting Goods store, about 8 miles north of the school, on Wednesday.

Paintball and airsoft guns lined a wall near the entrance of the store, where a manager said employees were not allowed to comment on the shooting.

The night of the shooting, Myers was waiting inside his truck for his 13-year-old son to get out of jujitsu training at Gracie Barra next to the Big 5 when he spotted Hazrat Ali Rohani and his friends walk by, according to court records.

An employee at Gracie Barra declined to comment.

“We’re not making any statements out of respect for those involved,” the employee said.

Hershel Vasquez, the owner of nearby Pristine Barber Studio, said his employees called him immediately after the shooting to report hearing a man yelling, “Put your hands up,” followed by gunfire. Police ordered the employees to stay inside the store, where they waited for about an hour before they were allowed to leave, he said.

His employees were shocked that the teenager was shot, Vasquez said.

Surveillance camera footage reviewed by police showed one of the teenagers placing his airsoft gun on the ground before he and Rohani raised their empty hands in the air. Prosecutors said Myers then tackled the first boy and fired at Rohani.

“At that point, you’re just looking for a murder,” Vasquez said. “He should’ve called the police instead of trying to take things into his own hands.”