The security guard accused of beating his 10-year-old stepson to death with a baker's rolling pin admitted to The Buffalo News that he committed the terrible act.
But Ali Mohamed Mohamud, 40, who fled Somalia two decades ago amid civil war and had made Buffalo his new home, also says he doesn't know why he did it -- and that he had never hurt the child before.
"I cannot deny it. It happened. I don't know what happened. I snapped. I have never struck any of my children. You can ask anyone. I am not like that," Mohamud told The Buffalo News during a lengthy interview at the Erie County Holding Center last week.
His insistence that he had never before hurt Abdifatah "Abdi" Mohamud stands in stark contrast to mounting evidence that the boy had been abused, including two 911 calls that Abdi made April 18, 2011. He was killed April 17 this year, with more than 70 blows to the head from the rolling pin, police have said.
Nevertheless, Ali Mohamed Mohamud seeks forgiveness from relatives, the Somali community and the rest of Buffalo.
Mohamud told The News he wants his wife, Shukri Bile, who was Abdi's mother and with whom he had two younger sons, to know he still loves her. And, he added, he hopes his wife will take pity on him and bring their sons to the holding center so that he can see them.
Putting a hand to his chest, dressed in an orange jail shirt, the 190-pound, 5-foot, 11-inch security guard asked: "What good is life if you can't be with your children? It hurts that I can't be with my children now."
Under suicide watch at the jail, Mohamud said that he will kill himself if he is denied the chance to be with his two little boys, should a judge sentence him to life behind bars.
"I don't know how the legal system works in this country. I hope the judge understands that I didn't mean to do this," he said.
Mohamud says he has been advised by his attorney, Kevin W. Spitler, not to speak of the killing, but he spoke anyway, though not of the killing.
Mohamud now sits in a special cell under a suicide watch. He said he is not permitted reading material and the television in the unit is too far away to make out what the voices on the TV are saying.
Mohamud says he prays several times a day, but often thinks of what he did and cannot believe it actually happened.
"I have never broken the law in my life," he said, adding that he tried to be the best father possible.
"I wish it never happened," he said of killing his stepson. "I keep waking up and thinking it was a nightmare. I can't believe it."
>A loss of control
Mohamud said his attempt to discipline Abdifatah for failing to do his homework spun out of control in the late afternoon of April 17.
The boy had run away, apparently heading to an older sibling's home on the West Side when an unsuspecting neighbor helped Mohamud catch the boy on Jefferson Avenue.
The boy told the neighbor he was trying to get his sibling's home on Auburn Avenue because he was afraid of Mohamud.
But the stepfather, the neighbor said, assured her everything would be fine.
Mohamud told The News that Abdi loved to go to the Auburn Avenue house to watch TV on a 60-inch high-definition set. He said he told Abdi that day: "Do your homework first, then you can do whatever you want."
The neighbor, not knowing the horrors that awaited the boy, coaxed Abdi to go home with his father, and gave them a ride back to their house at 30 Guilford St., near the Broadway Market.
She said she dropped them off at about 5:20 p.m.
With his two younger boys on the first floor of the one-story ranch, Mohamud said, he ordered his stepson into the basement because he would not stop screaming and trying to escape from the house.
"I was tired from chasing him," Mohamud said.
Authorities believe the beating that ended the boy's life happened in the early evening.
In the basement, Mohamud bound the boy to a chair, stuffed a sock into his mouth and covered it with duct tape, authorities said. An autopsy showed he beat the boy more than 70 times with a baker's rolling pin.
With the body still gagged and bound to the chair in the basement, Mohamud then watched his two younger sons.
The boys' mother returned home from her job as a cleaner at a downtown office building at about 10:30 p.m. to see her husband packing luggage.
He then drove away, and the mother, unable to find her 10-year-old, called 911 to report him missing, unaware that he was one floor below her.
Mohamud dismissed any suggestion that his experiences in war-torn Somalia had anything to do with what he admits happened to his stepson, refusing to make excuses for killing Abdi.
But he did explain how he ended up in Buffalo.
>Dreams of med school
After he graduated from high school, Mohamud said, Somalia fell into civil war and his dream of going to school to become a doctor was not possible.
"Everyone was leaving because the government had collapsed. There were dead people everywhere. I saw their bodies."
Mohamud made his way to neighboring Kenya, then to Syria, before taking a bus to Turkey, then to Georgia, and finally to Moscow.
"I lived in Moscow for about 10 years with other Somalis. The United Nation High Commission for Refugees gave us each $55 a month," said Mohamud, who became fluent in Russian.
He arrived in Buffalo in 2001, and about five years later he became a U.S. citizen. During that time, he resumed his long-delayed goal of studying for a career in medicine, though he scaled back by pursuing a degree in nursing.
His older half-brother, who had also made it to America, had become a nurse and would eventually become an emergency room physician, Mohamud said.
But the road to nursing for Mohamud proved difficult. He ran out of money for tuition and owed $50,000 in student loans. He dropped out.
"It's a lot but I was planning to become a doctor after I became a nurse and I knew I would be able to pay back the loans with what I made."
Shukri Bile arrived in Buffalo in February 2004 and Mohamud quickly became a part of her life. Mohamud was a distant cousin of her first husband, who was slain by rebels in Somalia along with a 4-year-old son.
By June 2004, Mohamud said, he and Bile were married by a sheik at a local mosque and five years later in a civil ceremony in Buffalo City Hall.
They moved into their home on Guilford Street in 2009. It was built by Habitat for Humanity.
Bile is the owner of the home because she provided the required 500 hours of "sweat equity" to help complete the dwelling.
Her relatives, though they did not want to speak for this story, said she has always done whatever is necessary to provide for her family. She raised several siblings left without parents back in Somalia, and here in Buffalo she has been working second shift cleaning offices at the Ellicott Square to pay the bills.
Mohamud said there is no question of his wife's goodness.
"She is a good woman, a hard worker, caring," he said.
Others say the same.
"This lady is a good, hardworking employee, quiet and goes about her business. Like other immigrants I employ, she wants to raise her family in America," said developer Carl P. Paladino, who owns Ellicott Square.
Since 2009, Mohamud had made his living with a private security company that assigned him shifts at The Buffalo News. That is where he was arrested late April 17, after he went to the newspaper to clean out his work locker.
Mohamud said that he often worked midnight shifts, arrived home in the morning and prepared breakfast for his two sons and stepson and readied them for school so that his wife could sleep.
When the children returned home in the afternoon, he said, he was again there to watch over them, prepare dinner and put them to bed.
During the daytime, he said he and his wife often went to her oldest son's rental properties on the West Side and assisted in helping 23-year-old Hussein Waris renovate his homes.
"That Tuesday morning I was helping Hussein remodel," he says of the day he later killed Abdifatah. "I drank coffee all night at work and I figured if I cannot sleep why not go and help."
Claiming that he loved Abdifatah, he said that a week earlier, he had spoken with the head of Enterprise Charter School where Barkad, his younger son, attends kindergarten, to try and get his stepson into that school.
"They have a good program there for the children," he said. "They are kept busy."
Jill Norton, chief executive officer of Enterprise, confirmed that he spoke on behalf of Abdifatah.
"He dropped Barkad off every day. He'd walk him into the school every morning. It's kind of hard for everybody here to wrap their minds around this because there were none of the usual signs," Norton said of abusive behavior.
>No overt signs
But it has since been determined that, a year ago, Abdifatah called 911 in April 2011 to report that he was being abused by his stepfather. Police officers saw no overt signs of child abuse but followed state law and notified Erie County Child Protective Services.
Approximately two months later, CPS investigated how Abdifatah suffered severe facial bruises, which Mohamud blamed on schoolmates.
"Last school year in the spring when Abdi was in fourth grade, he attended an Islamic school on Genesee Street and two kids beat him up on the bus. His head was banged up," Mohamud said.
"The bus company denied it happened on the bus. Someone contacted CPS, and my wife and I were investigated. We eventually got a letter saying the charges were unfounded. The letter is in my bedroom at home," he said.
But what about Abdifatah's telling classmates and friends that he feared his abusive stepfather?
Mohamud said he does not understand why Abdifatah would say that, though he admitted he was strict on the point of doing homework because he wanted his stepson to succeed.
He also said he does not understand why he killed the boy and feels horrible for the pain he has brought upon his wife and family. He not only begs for forgiveness but asks for prayers.
>Begging for forgiveness
Relatives of Abdifatah say they want justice for their "angel," who has moved on to "paradise."
When told of the tears streaming down Mohamud's face as he begged for forgiveness, they too wept, not for him, but rather for the dead child and the hurt Mohamud has caused.
Imam Yahye Omar, a native of Somalia who ministers to local Somalis, said Mohamud should take up his cause of seeking forgiveness with God.
"It's for God to forgive him. It is not in our hands. The community wants justice," Omar said.
Abdifatah's family and other Somalis, he said, have been deeply touched by the support of many Buffalo Niagara residents.
"We have found out that we are not alone. Buffalonians and Western New Yorkers have told us we are with you. What happened to you doesn't happen only to you."
Even Mayor Byron W. Brown, he said, has gone out of his way to spend time with the family in the past week and that, too, has been a comfort. The imam, the father of seven children, also stressed that Somalis love their children as much as anyone else and would never tolerate or hide child abuse.
"Come to my home," he says, "and see how we love our children."
Mohamud's vow to kill himself does not move his relatives.
They also said that while they never saw Mohamud physically abuse Abdifatah, they refuse to discuss him, fearing that he might somehow take their words and twist them into a defense that would lessen his punishment.
Shukri Bile and Mohamud have two sons, Barkad, 5, and Adam, 6. Bile is also the mother of Abdifatah and three grown children.
Her family says she continues to suffer unimaginable grief.