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For family friend, crime evokes memory of a similar horror

Abdifatah Mohamud's death isn't the first time Shukri Bile's life has been marred by tragedy.

More than two decades ago, after civil war ensnared her native Somalia, Bile's first husband and 4-year-old son were killed by rebels as her family tried to flee the war-torn nation. Bile was nine months pregnant at the time.

"I was luckily saved when they started scavenging around and tearing down the house and loading on their trucks with anything they thought of value, including the furniture, curtains, windows, the ceilings and even the corrugated-iron roof of the house," Bile told The Buffalo News in a 2009 profile.

She made it to Kenya and ended up in refugee camp. The family then went to Uganda. She was eventually granted resettlement in the U.S. "My children and I got off a plane in Buffalo February 2004. It was a dream come true," she said.

In 2008, she was selected by Habitat for Humanity to receive a new home -- a one-story ranch built less than four years ago by Habitat for Humanity and the Lions Club at 30 Guilford St.

That's where a distraught Tina Johnson waited in her car Wednesday evening, hoping to see Bile -- if only for a moment -- to console her.

Johnson is the school bus driver for 6-year-old Adam, one of two children Bile had with Ali Mohamed Mohamud. She had come to know the family well over the last few years.

If anyone could understand what Bile was going through, it was Johnson.

Her own 8-year-old son, A.J., was slain at the hands of an angry father -- her former husband, Johnny Howard -- in 1993. Like Abdi, A.J. died after he was tied to a chair with duct tape by his father, who stuck a sock in his mouth and then beat him, she said. A.J. was beaten repeatedly with an electrical cord. He was being disciplined for hitting a younger sibling.

"A child can never, ever, ever, ever do anything to deserve that," she said. "When I heard this, it opened up all those wounds. I feel her pain. I know what she's going through."

Bile was not home Wednesday. The first sign of activity at the house came about 7 p.m. when a pair of men of Somali descent arrived to pick up a family car. One of the men told Johnson that Bile was sad and upset and was with family. Johnson handed one of them a slip of paper with her phone number and begged for a call.

Johnson, herself, cried all day Wednesday and yearned to help Bile. She described Bile as a kind and generous woman who only last week made her a pot of stew and pita bread, as she so often did.

Abdi's death haunts Johnson because of her own experience in 1993 and because of Tuesday's events. She may have been the last person to hug Abdi before he died.

Johnson's bus rolled up in front of the family's home to return Adam home. Like every other day, it was the last stop on Johnson's route.

Abdi, who had just gotten off his own school bus at the corner of Guilford and Broadway, walked up to Johnson's bus and got on to help Adam off. He was joined by his father, Mohamud. Johnson said it seemed like any other day. Adam adored Mohamud, she said.

"Instead of 'daddy,' Adam called him 'dah-eeee' and would run to him and jump right into his arms."

Mohamud was his usual friendly self Tuesday, Johnson recalled. She remembered he told Abdi to wear a hat, but didn't seem upset.

"He said, 'It's cold outside. When you go to school, I want you to wear a hat,' " recalled Johnson. "So, I told him, 'Dude, put your hat on, it's not summertime.' He touched me and he hugged me. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary."

Johnson paused and smiled to herself.

"I would always call him 'dude' because I couldn't pronounce his name," she said.

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