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Lewiston shooting rattles Somali community, who came here seeking safety

Shukri Abasheikh, owner of Mogadishu Store, helps customer Gracia Mbula with a purchase in her store in Lewiston, Maine, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)
Raquel C. Zaldívar
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New England News Collaborative
Shukri Abasheikh, owner of Mogadishu Store, helps customer Gracia Mbula with a purchase in her store in Lewiston, Maine, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)

Five days after the shooting, Shukri Abasheikh was ringing up a customer at Mogadishu Store Lewiston.

She’s known to her customers as Mama Shukri, and has been a fixture of downtown Lewiston since she opened her store in 2007. She offers an array of East African food, spices, clothing, and other products.

Today, though, business is slow.

"Not a lot of customer[s]," she said. "It's not like before, it's very changed."

She said that’s because even though the suspect in last week’s mass shooting was found dead Friday night - and the countywide lockdown lifted - many in the Somali community remain wary of venturing out.

“They call me,” Abasheikh said, referring to other community members. “They say ‘Can I come outside?’ I say ‘Yes, the guy died!’”

A customer reaches for a garlic bulb in Mogadishu Store in Lewiston, Maine, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)
Raquel C. Zaldívar
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New England News Collaborative
A customer reaches for a garlic bulb in Mogadishu Store in Lewiston, Maine, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)

Like many Somalis in Lewiston, Abasheikh and her family fled the Somali Civil War in the 1990s. After being initially resettled in big cities such as Atlanta, many came to Lewiston looking for a smaller, safer place to live and raise families.

The community now numbers in the thousands, and business owners like Abasheikh have been credited with reviving what had been a moribund downtown in this former mill city. Now, in the wake of the shooting, some Somali residents are grappling with a kind of violence many had tried to flee by coming to Lewiston in the first place.

Across the street from Mogadishu Store, Abasheikh’s daughter Ifraax Saciid-Ciise runs a nonprofit focused on nonviolent communication and restorative justice.

She said the shooting triggered fear and dark memories for many community members, who, like her, had already escaped war.

As the shootings and subsequent manhunt unfolded, she said many were preoccupied with two central questions: “What should we do? Are we safe?”

Making matters worse, with the whole county under lockdown for two days while the suspect was still at large, Saciid-Ciise said community Whatsapp groups were flooded with unreliable information. At one point, she said there was a rumor that the shooter would target immigrant communities.

“So it was those type[s] of things that [were] being spread, that even caused more fear amongst our community,” she said.

Ifraax Saciid-Ciise, founder and executive director of Ifka Community Services, poses for a portrait at Ifka Community Services in Lewiston, Maine, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)
Raquel C. Zaldívar
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New England News Collaborative
Ifraax Saciid-Ciise, founder and executive director of Ifka Community Services, poses for a portrait at Ifka Community Services in Lewiston, Maine, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)

And she said that fear has persisted, of possible copycat shootings. While Saciid-Ciise attended a vigil for the victims on Sunday, she said others stayed home, still wary of public spaces.

A few blocks away, Fowsia Musse said the shooting came on a grim anniversary for her.

Musse, who runs a nonprofit focused on empowering girls, was shot in Ethiopia exactly one year ago while visiting family.

She said she was already grappling with that experience when the shooting in Lewiston unleashed a flood of traumatic memories.

“Including my historical trauma, because we [fled] from a war, and it took me years of therapy to get over the first childhood trauma,” she said.

Musse said many immigrant residents are already shouldering anxiety about friends and family members in their home countries.

“People back home are not safe either. Whether it’s a drought or diseases or whatever, you know, there is some kind of sad news every day. So even though this was new to us,” she said of the Lewiston shooting, “at the same time, it's not new.”

Fowsia Musse, executive director of Maine Community Integration, right, listens to speakers during the OneLewiston Community Vigil in the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine, on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)
Raquel C. Zaldívar
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New England News Collaborative
Fowsia Musse, executive director of Maine Community Integration, right, listens to speakers during the OneLewiston Community Vigil in the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine, on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)

Now, Musse said her primary concern is who will be there to support the victims after the dust settles.

Lewiston is slowly coming back to life.

At his newly-opened East African restaurant Naima, Muktar Hersi was serving a late lunch to a handful of customers.

Hersi, who fled multiple wars before settling in Maine with his wife more than 20 years ago, has two sons at nearby Bates College. He said he called them immediately upon learning of the shootings.

“I was shocked,” he said. “Even though they were safe. But I was panicking. You know, because this was new to us in Maine.”

During the second day of the lockdown, as police searched for the suspect, Hersi said he came into the restaurant to prepare and deliver food to families stuck at home with their children.

Asked if the shooting has made him feel differently about living in Lewiston, Hersi shook his head.

“No no no no,” he said. “We’re Lewistonians, like they say. We're not going nowhere.”

Muktar Hersi, owner of Naima restaurant, speaks in his restaurant in Lewiston, Maine, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)
Raquel C. Zaldívar
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New England News Collaborative
Muktar Hersi, owner of Naima restaurant, speaks in his restaurant in Lewiston, Maine, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)

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