CINCINNATI, OH - Suliman Abdul-Mutakallim was shot in the back of his head, as he walked home, carrying food for himself and his wife.
Authorities say he was an innocent and unsuspecting victim.
After two teenagers pleaded guilty this month at separate court hearings and were sentenced to prison terms, Abdul-Mutakallim's mother, Rukiye, offered to hug them.
Javon Coulter said she could.
Rukiye wants to visit them in prison regularly and help them become better people.
She thinks about it this way: They have been infected by a disease, but are young. They can be cured.
Vengeance, she said, solves nothing. It won't bring back her son.
A killing for less than $60
It happened the night of June 28, 2015, in South Cumminsville, under a highway overpass. Suliman was walking home from a White Castle, carrying a bag of food.
Police say there were three robbers. One of them, Javon, who was 14, was seen in a surveillance video pulling money from the front pocket of his pants right after the shooting.
The 39-year-old Navy veteran, known by many as “Sam,” was still alive, face-down on the pavement, bleeding. His wallet likely contained less than $60.
The video showed Javon hand money to the other two. One was 17-year-old Valentino Pettis. Police believe the third person was a man in his 20s, but he was never charged.
Javon, Valentino and the third person then walked down the street, taking the food with them.
Rukiye, a native of North Carolina and a devout Muslim who converted in her late-teens, has lived with that image of her dying son for more than two years. Her grief is constant.
In an interview at her College Hill home, Rukiye recalled the moment Suliman, the youngest of her three biological children, died at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. She and other family members were at his bedside. She was holding his hand.
Her religion teaches that there is no goodbye. So Rukiye whispered to her son, “Until I see you again.”
Then she kissed him.
At a court hearing more than two years later, on Nov. 2, Rukiye – after asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan for permission – did something courtroom veterans said they'd never seen.
She walked up to Javon, who'd just admitted involvement in her son's death, and hugged him. She also embraced Javon's mother.
She wanted them to know she could see beyond the act that took her son's life.
And she pledged to do everything possible to make Javon a better man.
"His death was already ordained,” she told him. “Maybe the purpose is to save your life.”
Rukiye, who is 66, said her son's killers are children who have mothers, like herself.
“Those young men – although they took my son’s life in the manner they did – we need to fight for them. Because they are going to come back out. And they will be older. But if they have no light, then this same disease is going to repeat itself and they are going to take another person’s child’s life and eventually their own,” Rukiye said. “And every mother’s heart must feel this.”
“We have to fight for them to see that there is a better life,” she said, “and then they have to fight to get to where that better life is.”
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