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In vigil and fundraisers, Boise refugees see 'love and support that matter the most'

Refugees and other Boiseans shocked by Saturday's knife attack on refugee children and adults have responded quickly to show support.

On Monday evening, hundreds gathered at City Hall for a vigil, bringing 'get well' cards and bouquets of white flowers. Sunday, supporters organized a rally, attended a prayer service and started raising funds for the victims.

At the vigil, 16-year-old Younis Kamel brought a sign. It read: "I will never forget seeing my friends getting stabbed in front of me."

"My friend got stabbed 6 feet away from me, and it was hard watching him try to crawl away," said Younis, accompanied by his sister Zuzu Kamel, 23.

Younis, who moved to Boise from Iraq, said it was heartening to see the crowd at the vigil.

"It's welcoming. It's the love and support that matter the most," he said. "It's not about what happened. It's what you do to change."

For Nigerian immigrant Cordelia Ogunrinola, the vigil was a chance to show the same support she received last year, when she was the target of a hate crime in Nampa.

"For people that are heartbroken, we cannot give money but we can give support," said Ogunrinola, who works as a nurse serving refugee populations at Family Medicine Residency of Idaho.

"Don't feel like you are all alone. Yes, there are bad eggs," she said, "but that's not what defines this community."

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Hundreds of Treasure Valley residents gathered at City Hall on Monday to support the refugee community and the victims of the mass stabbing in Boise on Saturday. Darin Oswald

Rallying at the scene

At least a hundred people were still gathered late Sunday afternoon on a State Street corner adjoining the Wylie Street Station Apartments, the apartment complex where six children and nine adults were injured the night before. They had rallied for almost two hours, with chanters and watchers coming and going.

"We want to show the families that we are standing beside them," said Hanan Alsayagh, 21, an Iraqi refugee who lives near the apartment complex, as several dozen people chanted at State Street and Wylie Lane.

More than 200 people attended a prayer gathering Sunday evening at the Imam Hussain Islamic Center on Orchard Street. Members, neighbors, teachers and counselors of the injured children and others came to express their sadness and to pray.

"We are here to support the families and to let them know we are here for them," said Asaad Alassadi, the imam.

[ Opinion: Following stabbing attack, Boise translates welcoming words into community action ]

Police say the attacker was a 30-year-old Los Angeles man who had been staying at an apartment in the complex but was booted out Friday because of his behavior. Among those he is accused of injuring was a 3-year-old girl, who later died, at her birthday party. Eight other people were injured.

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Alyce Warr of Meridian wipes away a tear while supporting of the nine stabbing victims at a vigil at Boise City Hall on Monday. "In my family we have African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native Americans," Warr said. "I don't believe in borders."

'A place of love ... until yesterday'

At the rally near where the attack took place, Fidel Nshombo, Idaho representative for the Refugee Congress, a national advocacy group, led call-and-response chants like "What do we want?" "Safety!" "When do we want it?" "Now!" as cars drove by.

Nshombo was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, emigrated as a boy in 1998 with his family to Zimbabwe, later received refugee status in the United States, and settled in Boise in 2006. He is a U.S. citizen, married, a father of five daughters.

"When I came here, I was happy that this is where I would raise my kids," he said in an interview. "A place of love, peace and stability. That's what I called Idaho for the 11 years I have lived here. Until yesterday. ...

"I felt how defenseless those kids were, and how their parents felt they couldn't protect them in those moments. ... I had to come and support them and be part of this."

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Addison Justice, 4, leaves flowers on the steps of Boise City Hall on Monday in support of the nine victims of Saturday's mass stabbing in Boise.

One man who watched the rally, Dhafer Alfutayhi, said he came from the Middle East to study at Boise State University. He said he has served at times as an interpreter at the Wylie Street apartments.

"I love these refugees," Alfutayhi said. "The communities of Boise, the people here, are supportive of refugees. The extreme vetting of refugees should be lifted. I don't see those people being hurtful to anyone."

He was referring to President Donald Trump's efforts to curb immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries. The attacks rekindled debate about those efforts on social media.

'My mom is dying,' said a girl who was stabbed

At the prayer gathering, Boise resident Anmar Lafta said he was trying to make sense of what happened. Two of the girls who were stabbed, ages 5 and 7, are relatives of his.

"It's hard to believe this would happen in Boise," he said. "He attacked children. Why did he do that? What did he want?"

Thaaer Muhammad, 43, said he came to the apartment complex Saturday night to find a girl, a friend of his daughter, in shock. It took her a few minutes before she could speak, he said. "My mom is dying," he said the girl finally told him. He then noticed the girl had also been stabbed.

He said he came from a small village in Iraq and saw a lot of violence, but nothing like this. "In all of those wars in all of those years in Iraq, I never saw anyone kill a child," Muhammad said.

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Imam Asaad Alassadi offers a prayer during a service Sunday evening at the Imam Hussain Islamic Center. He called Boise "very welcoming" for refugees and said Saturday night's attack doesn't change that. "We are going to keep building this city because we are part of this city." John Sowell

Refugees 'experience violence all over again'

The apartment complex is managed by Northwest Real Estate Capital Corp., which issued a statement Monday.

"This was a tragic and senseless crime committed against innocent children and families celebrating. Our prayers and support are with the families in our community," Northwest said. "We are working to provide counseling services, restoration and any other support our community and families need during this difficult time.

"If you would like to support these families, we are working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), they have established a donation page on their website."

Reporter Ruth Brown contributed. David Staats: 208-377-6417, @DavidStaats.
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