A fight at an apartment complex in Columbus, Ohio, late Saturday left a Somali-American woman hospitalized, a neighbor facing eviction and police looking for answers.
Columbus police on Monday released information about the brawl, which was allegedly marked by racist threats, in an effort to dispel “rumors and speculation” circulating on social media, they said.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions over hate crimes against racial and religious minorities ― most recently from the mass transit stabbing in Portland, Oregon, in which a white supremacist who was berating a black girl and a Muslim girl fatally stabbed two men who tried to intervene.
Columbus police have not made arrests “due to the lack of physical evidence and conflicting stories by all parties at the scene.” They said they were unable to determine “who the primary aggressor was” in Saturday’s incident, but said there is no evidence to suggest it was a hate crime.
Two women offered to HuffPost strikingly different accounts of what happened Saturday. Both say the encounter grew violent. Beyond that, there is little they agree on.
Rahma Warsame, a 45-year-old Somali-American woman, was hospitalized with facial fractures and “some knocked out teeth” following the Saturday night melee, according to Jennifer Nemir, legal director for the Columbus chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Nemir says Warsame was beaten when she tried to intervene in a situation where a male neighbor was in a “verbal altercation” with another woman.
Sam Morales, a 31-year-old Mexican-American woman who lives in the same apartment complex as Warsame, disputes CAIR’s version of events. Morales says she was the one being attacked by her neighbors, and that her boyfriend, Ricky Alan Boice, became involved while trying to help her.
“This was a neighborhood fight where they ganged up on me and just got out of hand,” Morales told HuffPost Monday. “And people got hurt. And some people got hurt worse than others.”
Morales claims the incident started after she witnessed a Somali woman named Muna Warsame ― no relation to Rahma ― hitting her child in the face with a shoe.
“I didn’t want to get involved,” Morales said. “I just thought if I went outside and I made my presence known, she would stop beating her kid.”
Morales says that once she intervened, the child ran away. She says Muna Warsame then accused her of kidnapping the child after Morales refused to tell her which way the child had gone.
In dispatch audio provided to HuffPost, a woman identified by Columbus police as Muna Warsame is heard calling 911 and trying to give her location to the operator. She tells the operator she has a stun gun for her protection. After several minutes, the crackling sound of electricity can be heard as a woman screams.
Morales says that Muna Warsame shocked her with a stun gun and that “four to five Somali men came out of nowhere” and started punching her, prompting Boice to join the fray. She denies that Boice intentionally attacked Rahma Warsame, who she says was also at the scene.
“I think she got hit by all the people involved. There’s no way they’d be able to tell who they were hitting,” Morales said. “I’m pretty sure I probably hit someone myself.”
Nemir, of CAIR, said the incident with Rahma Warsame started when Boice and Muna Warsame were arguing. She said witnesses told her Boice went to his apartment to get a knife and was “chasing other people around.” Police recovered a kitchen knife at the scene but did not indicate who it belonged to.
Nemir said Rahma Warsame and other Somali residents at the apartment complex are now afraid of further violence. Morales says that she, too, is afraid and is being harassed by her neighbors.
Nemir said that according to some of the Somali witnesses from the apartment complex, the neighbors had previously been uneasy or afraid around Boice. She said he has made racially biased comments in the past.
“He made a comment before he hit [Rahma Warsame] saying something like ‘You’re all going to get shipped back to Africa,’” Nemir said.
Morales denied that there was any previous tension among the neighbors.
“My kid and their kids play together,” she said of her Somali neighbors. “They go to school together.”
Following Saturday’s altercation, the children are unlikely to play together for much longer: Morales says she is being evicted over the incident.
She added that while she’s concerned about Rahma Warsame’s well-being, she’s frustrated that Rahma is the only one being portrayed as a victim.
Though Morales has a starkly different account than Nemir regarding how Saturday’s incident unfolded, both share an apparent frustration with the police’s investigation ― though for different reasons.
Morales said police responded over two and a half hours after her first call. If they’d came sooner, she said, the entire fight could have been de-escalated.
Nemir, meanwhile, is disappointed that police did not talk to more witnesses or take anyone into custody.
“Other incidents have been less severe and not as many witnesses,” Nemir said. “It’s baffling why the police handled it the way they did.”