Neighbors remember mother, children killedby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Vadnais Heights, Minn. — Scores of people gathered in Bilha Omare's front yard Wednesday afternoon to remember her, her daughter and son, a week after they were all found dead in their third-floor apartment.
Justus Kebabe told police he'd been arguing with his wife in their Vadnais Heights neighborhood. He told them he hit her with a golf club and then strangled her. Kebabe told police that, hours later, he drowned their 12-year-old son, Kinley Ogendi, in the bathtub, as the boy pleaded for his life.
Then, Kebabe said, he strangled his 10-year-old daughter, Iyvn Ogendi.
Authorities have charged Kebabe with three counts of murder in a case that appears to be part of an all-too familiar portrait of domestic violence and its consequences.
"It's really very shocking, when you hear a child, asking the father, 'Daddy, Daddy stop,'" said James Nyakundi, vice president of the Kenyan Community of Minnesota. "You feel the pain as a parent."
Nyakundi told the crowed that the killings had shocked and saddened local Kenyans.
"Share with us the grief, as a community, as the Minnesota community," he said. "It affects not only Kenyans, but all the community in Minnesota, wherever you are from."
Some joined his remarks with prayers and pleas for Omare's family, while others wondered if the tragedy could have been prevented.
The family had been touched by violence before.
Police arrested Kebabe for assaulting his wife in 2008. He eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
Omare told police in an interview then that Kebabe had been assaulting her for years, and that he even beat her unconscious when they lived in their native Kenya.
Experts say that fits a pattern of escalating domestic abuse -- a pattern difficult to predict.
The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women reports at least 25 people died in suspected incidents of domestic violence in Minnesota last year. According to the group, half of the women killed were known to have been abused by their killers. A quarter of the men who killed them had already been involved in the justice system.
From her nearby office, Vadnais Heights prosecutor Caroline Bell Beckman said she wished she'd known Kebabe would be one of them. She prosecuted Kebabe in the 2008 domestic assault case.
"You go back and you say, 'What could we have done differently?' I don't know," Bell Beckman said. "I'd like to think that there was something more. Unfortunately, our time is so limited.
"When you think about it, we have her at a pre-trial, briefly at a jury trial. And can you absorb or see what will happen in the future? No. I didn't see it coming," said Beckman.
Linda Wikoff, a victim's advocate for the Minneapolis-based Tubman organization, said for 20 years there has been a support program for domestic assault victims who call police. Omare likely would have been among them.
Wikoff said she can't discuss her work with Omare but said they had not been in contact recently.
About three out of four victims do seek Wikoff out for help, even after their cases wrap up in the legal system. She said Omare may have had good reason not to do the same.
"She did report to the police that there had been some horrendous, horrendous abuse in Africa, and that since coming to the United States, things seemed a little bit better in terms of the abuse," Wikoff said. "So I think that maybe was hopeful for her."
Tragically for Bilha Omare and her children, that hope was in vain. Now her friends, family and community say the memory of their deaths is calling them to do better for others.
- All Things Considered, 10/20/2010, 5:23 p.m.