Abdifatah Mohamud had told other youngsters about how his stepfather beat him, but those words alone could not prevent the 10-year-old from being murdered
There were warning signs that all was not well in Ali Mohamed Mohamud's home on Guilford Street, where Mohamud allegedly beat his 10-year-old stepson to death after gagging and restraining him in the basement.
The stepfather struck Abdifatah Mohamud about 70 times with an 18-inch hardwood baker's rolling pin, pulverizing the boy's skull, before throwing a blanket over him and fleeing late Tuesday night, authorities have told The Buffalo News.
When the boy's mother returned home from her job as an office cleaner, she called police to report her son missing.
That was not the first time Buffalo police were summoned to 30 Guilford. Since the family moved there in 2009, officers responded to 16 calls, some minor, but others involving incidents of domestic violence.
Authorities believe that the family was well aware of Mohamud's propensity for violence but never dreamed that it would explode into a situation where he would kill one of them.
Abdifatah had told other youngsters whom he played with in the East Side neighborhood that his stepfather was abusive to him. He also had let his complaints be known to classmates, but those complaints never made their way to adults or teachers, school officials said.
It is also clear that the boy's death was not a case of discipline, as Mohamud told police. Abdifatah had good grades and was never a problem at school.
"We have classmates coming in to us today and talking about what he said to them, kid-to-kid. He didn't want to go home at times because of his father," Kevin J. Eberle, principal of International Preparatory School, said Thursday.
Neighbors on Guilford also recalled fights between Mohamud, 40, and one of his older, teenage stepsons, who ended up moving out of the house.
"I watched one night when one of the older sons ran out of the house and the police were called. I told him not to leave, but he ran away," neighbor Johnny Alexander said.
So why weren't steps taken to thwart the violence from spinning out of control?
Police and other community officials say that it might be traced to the fact that this was an immigrant family from a country where the male patriarch rules the household.
The same level of rights in the United States, particularly for women and children, often do not exist in other countries around the world, they explained.
But others point out that the characteristics of an abusive household are universal.
"Children, by definition, are helpless and cannot be expected to report abuse because they're frightened and powerless," said Judith G. Olin, director of the child advocacy program at Child & Adolescent Treatment Services in Buffalo.
She added that families often keep secrets.
"It is a hallmark of abusive families to keep secrets about what is happening. They will urge children to keep family business within the family and not tell outsiders," Olin said. "Children are often threatened that, if they tell about the abuse, they will be taken away from their parents."
Olin pointed out that America has the worst record among developed countries for children who die from abuse.
And what happened to Abdifatah, authorities agree, should never have occurred.
"Mohamud came from a dominant male culture, and discipline was strict, but his actions went to a whole new level of abuse and brutality," Eberle said in condemning the death and dismissing Mohamud's contention that he was disciplining his stepson for falling behind in his homework and grades.
School officials, he said, were never told about the abuse and saw no outward signs of it on the boy, a fifth-grader.
If they had, Eberle said, they would have pounced.
"We have psychologists, social workers and school counselors trained to spot this," Eberle said. "We're really distraught over this. It was devastating to hear the news of the killer's excuse of Abdi not doing his homework. Abdi was a great student with an 86 grade average."
It is difficult to say who missed the signs of abuse, Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said, but they were missed.
"Obviously, there were signs out there, and it is a terrible tragedy that it came to this," Derenda said, urging citizens in general to never shrink from "reporting abuses if they are aware."
An imam who ministers to Buffalo's Somali community, which numbers more than 1,000, said he was not aware of Mohamud's "evil" side.
"He had two faces. There was the nice side, and the other side that abused this kid," said Imam Yahye Omar, who spent all of Wednesday consoling the dead boy's family.
A native of Somalia, Omar said that while it is not possible to pry into the private lives of his countrymen, he urged them to be fearless in standing up for their rights when it comes to abusive situations.
"We want every single kid to say what their problems are, to go to the schoolteacher, police, even the imam," said Omar, who is chairman of the Imams Council of Western New York. "We have the right to stop this kind of evil."
Toni Poole, Abdifatah's primary teacher at the Clinton Street school, said the boy was bright and loving.
"There wasn't one time Abdi failed to complete his homework assignments," Poole said. "He told me his goal was to be a doctor so he could take care of me when I was old. I told him it was a good thing his mother spotted him first because I would have taken him."