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News employees try to reconcile friendly guard with suspected killer

Two very different pictures of Ali Mohamed Mohamud began to emerge on Wednesday.

There's Mohamud the monster, charged with the unthinkable -- the beating death of his 10-year-old stepson, Abdifatah Mohamud.

Then, there's Mohamud the polite and laid-back security guard, who liked to chat it up in the parking lot or while making his rounds.

Those who know Mohamud were stunned that he could be the same person charged with second-degree murder, accused of beating his stepson to death in the basement of the family's home on Guilford Street -- what veteran investigators described as one of the most grisly crime scenes they can remember.

"If he did something like this," said Donna Davis, an engraver at The Buffalo News, "something must have made him snap."

Since February 2009, Mohamed, 40, had worked as a security officer for U.S. Security Associates at The Buffalo News, where he usually worked 10-hour shifts Friday through Monday.

He was polite, his work was above average and a background check showed a clean record, said David Eisensmith, facilities manager at The News.

"I talked to him every night," Davis said. "We talked about kids all the time. We talked about politics -- he constantly talked about politics. He talked about his country and where he came from."

Mohamud, like many others, fled his native Somalia in the early 1990s, when the country's president was overthrown and the nation fell into lawlessness and civil war.

As a refugee, he spent time in Russia, before eventually being resettled in Buffalo, where he has lived for about a decade and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to a neighbor and police.

"He talked about coming from Somalia," said John Bleckinger, publishing systems analyst at The News. "He wasn't a complainer. He was very laid-back. We didn't talk about a lot of things, he was just a pleasant person to be around -- and interesting. He's seen a lot."

"I found him to be very bright, articulate and engaging," said Staff Reporter Harold McNeil. "He seemed very well informed about world issues and he was very friendly. He made a point to say 'hello' and 'good night' -- and he always knew your name."

But some women at the company acknowledged Mohamud seemed a bit too friendly, which made them uncomfortable. Another employee recalled a recent Saturday when Mohamud had an outburst with a visitor to the building.

Mohamud had been attending D'Youville College to become a nurse, but was forced to stop because he lacked the money to continue his education, said Staff Reporter Mark Sommer.

"He was thinking of going to school outside the U.S. where it would be cheaper. I think he told me a country in Central America, although he didn't want to leave his family to do so," Sommer said in recalling one of many friendly conversations he had with Mohamud. "He was always very respectful and remembered things I'd told him in the past about myself and my family that he showed genuine interest about."

Mohamud was often seen in the past at his guard station with textbooks and doing his homework, but on Tuesday night when he arrived at the newspaper, workers said he appeared confused.

The workers also said they spotted baggage in his vehicle.