James Kokulo Fasuekoi, MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. –Total indignations and cries for justice for little Barway Collins, murdered here a month ago, Saturday, filled the air while some collapsed as funeral rites took place over the deceased’s remains with thousands of people from all walks of life in full attendance at the Shiloh Temple in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The mega Shiloh Temple church was packed to capacity-this included the church’s surrounding overflow mini auditoriums-each designed to hold a little over a hundred, with mounted giant sized television screens that let audiences monitor the programs. Still in the main auditorium, hundreds of mourners stood calmly in hallways and back areas on their feet for hours just to watch the ceremonies with no one making a complaint.
Some overcome by deep grief, emotions, faint
Outside of the church’s edifices, members of the Emergency Medical Team (EMT) stood ready to deal with any emergency medical situation. In one instance, a middle aged woman shouted loudly before she collapsed as a goodbye poem was read for Barway by one of his former teachers. Before long, a group of ushers rushed to her aid while some ran outside to notify EMT personnel. It appears deep grief, indignation, combined with exhaustion caused her to faint.
Beneath the church’s huge podium, Barway’s body lied in state in a beautiful white coffin and for every 30 minutes or so, fully-attired guardsmen and women from state’s paramilitary and community groups swapped positions, almost similar to the daily changing of the guards in Allenton, Virginia. In addition, there was a wide range of security personnel including Public Safety Police and state troopers, all strategically positioned in and outside of the auditorium.
Many Minnesotans who couldn’t make it to the funeral watched the occasion live on national television from homes and workplaces and spectators this writer spoke to equated it to a state funeral. Among thousands that attended Barway’s funeral Saturday included local city, county and state officials. Brooklyn Center Mayor Tim Wilson was present while a city official deputized for Minnesota’s Governor Mr. Mark Dayton who was unable to be there.
And from the Liberian community itself, people came from all corners of the state of Minnesota and beyond. They came as individuals, friends and associations to pay tribute to a young boy whose family tragedy has no doubt turned him into a national icon. One such Liberian association present at the event was the Association of Liberians in Milwaukee, WI, led by its secretary general Musa Konneh and the group’s president, Titus Boe. This writer bumped into them at the grave site in Crystal, Minn.
Barway reported missing; his body is recovered from the Mississippi
Little Barway Collins who left Liberia at the age of 5, to live with his dad and attend school in the United States, was first reported missing March 18th by his father Pierre Collins. However, days into the search for Barway, Crystal Police declared Mr. Collins a suspect in the boy’s disappearance, an allegation he persistently denied. Incidentally, few weeks later, Barway’s body was found in a reservoir in the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Police have charged Mr. Collins with Second-degree murder in connection with his son’s murder and he’s currently in a Hennepin County jail awaiting trial.
But in spite of his short lifespan, many of the people who encountered Barway prior to his tragic death told memorable stories about him during his funeral-stories mostly centering on Barway’s love and care for other kids whether at home, school or church. In his church, he is said to have paid close attention to his spiritual duty and would collect Bibles and neatly re-pack them after service. One like Hennepin County Sheriff, Richard Stanek wasn’t so lucky to meet Barway but said he remembers something positive about him. “This boy touched all of our lives…my lasting memory of Barway is his smile,” he told the audience.
“I am so sorry you die” & “When Will It Stop?” Letter & poem from schoolmates
Adults of the various Minnesota communities weren’t the only people devastated by the tragedy. Young school and classmate friends of the deceased were also troubled by circumstances that led to the brutal murder of the 5th grader and each struggled in his or her own way to express his grief through letters and poems. One of Braway classmates named Jenna wrote: “I am so sorry you die. If I could I would bring you back to school.” “Everybody misses you and care about you,” the letter recalled in parts. It was read by Barway’s teacher Gayle Nelson.
Another written by a 5th grader from Barway’s Evergreen School shortly after he was reported missing, was titled, “WHEN WILL IT STOP?” and this was read by Evergreen School’s principle which goes like this: “Not being with my family, when will it stop? People hurting people, when will it stop? Starving children, when will it stop? People getting stolen, when will it stop? When kids lead for a better life, when will it stop?” Like the first, this had scores of mourners gnashing their teeth in total despair.
Earlier, the principle record, “Barway cared deeply about his classmates and teachers.” She quoted a teacher as saying “He was a great friend, always trying to find passages,” while another teacher said, “Classmates found him to be a funny and warm caring friend.” Yet, another described Barway as someone who was fascinated by words and people around him. The principle maintained that “We will always remember him in our school community.”
Barway-A community child; his hopes, dreams, vision, purpose
Delivering the funeral eulogy was Mother Sarah Kendema, who described the deceased as a “Community child, our hope, and our future,” and added, “Justice will come to Barway.”
Pastor Kendema narrated that Barway had vision, hope, dreams and a purpose for his life but said those “Dreams, hope and purpose” were never achieved. Notwithstanding, she maintained that people in the audience could still help “Barway achieve his dreams, vision and purpose” in life.
“We will always remember the name called Barway. Children are our future…children are the ones that we all should care for…but Barway’s life was cut short. This is the time when each and everyone else always asked this question, where is God with all of this going on?”
Mother Kendema made a reference to a book titled, “WHERE IS GOD?” written by one Liberian preacher named James Nyemah. The book apparently, is a direct reference to the numerous calamities happening in today’s world that tend to get shaky believers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to pose the obviously question: WHERE IS GOD?
But in order to make her point, Pastor Kendema re-posed the same question: WHERE IS GOD?
She asked: “Where is God when life’s situations seem to be knocking us over? Where is God, when I need him at that moment? Where is God! Where is God when Barway was taken from us, where is God?”
She continued: “We will never forget that day Barway was taken from us. We will never forget when we heard on the news that Barway was found in the Mississippi River. We will never forget! It seems that all hopes had been gone when Barway was taken away from us.” But according to her, Jesus remains our hope when all of the foundations of this world crumble.
Reassuring mourners while comparing Barway’s sad story to Job’s in the Bible
In relation to the Barway’s episode, the woman of God narrated the pitiful story of a man named Job in the Holy Bible, a man the Bible described to be “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” According to Holy Scriptures, the Lord blessed Job with seven sons and three daughters and with enormous possessions and it is written that “this man was the greatest of all the people of the East.”
But as Mother Kendema explained, based on Biblical story, Job lost all of his riches, and not only that, but his family and health as well. Yet, faced with such tribulations amid the temptation of questioning the Lord why, or go on to curse his Creator at once and die as was suggested, seeing that all hopes had been lost, Job, the Bible says, still opted to praise God and put his trust in Him.
She further revealed that the unfortunate events people are going through nowadays are thing that have been happening on earth forever. “The earth has no sorrow that God cannot heal…trials and tribulation will come that we cannot control. But in all, we should put our trust in God.” She even cited the Ebola epidemics plus the brutal civil wars as examples which ruined the home-country, Liberia, and further stated: “We will go through this,” referring to the Barway situation.
On a concluding note, the African preacher, using Job’s case, admonished the multitude of sympathizers to avoid any act of “Cursing God” and instead, put their trust in Him, God, as they grieve over the Barway tragedy.
Special Tributes from families of Barway’s mother and father
For the immediate relatives to late Barway’s mother Louise Karluah, and father, Pierre Collins, it is a tragedy they all still struggle to understand and find ways to deal with; it’s a bitter feeling that is often vividly re-echoed in every remarks from each side as was exhibited Saturday when tributes were made.
A sobbing brother to Louise, one of little Barway’s uncles, who spoke on the family behalf recalled that “Barway was trusted in care of a person who supposed
to give maximum care to Barway but unfortunately, he’s being accused” in the boy’s murder. On the other hand, Tilman Collins, of the Pierre Collins’ family, openly acknowledged “We [Collins family] have had our moment in history that no one wants to remember.”
Both parties appealed to citizens of Nimba, (home to Louise) and those of the accused’s own home county of Grand Gedeh, to closely work together in fostering peace and unity, and not let the tragic incident divide people of the two regions, the same pleas advanced by every Liberian speaker at the occasions.
Crimes no longer new to this once secluded US-Liberian community
The past years have shown that crime isn’t no longer something new to the tight-knit Minnesota-Liberian immigrant community of about 30, 000 people, and
once regarded as a secluded place.
On Oct. 31, 2012, a Liberian immigrant, Ishmael Roberts 22, was reported to have killed his 57 year-old mother Beatrice Wilson and 14 year-old nephew Peter Wilson.
Roberts who is serving time in a Minnesota jail, according to police used a “samurai sword” to carry out the killings. Police said he had ordered it from online days before the double murders.
Police also reported that Roberts stole his dead mother’s car after the incident and fled to Waterloo, Iowa, where investigators had him arrested and sent back to Minnesota to face justice.
“We asked him one question-what was this about with your family? He said, I don’t want to talk,” a local TV station quoted Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney as saying. “We may never know,” said Freeman.
A year earlier on Sept. 16, 2011, Liberian named Prince Moore, 53, killed his Mombasa-Kenyan wife in Minnesota and claimed he acted in self-defense. A police charged sheet said, Prince Moore stabbed his 39 year-old wife, Mauryn E. Moore, 63 times with a bent knife.
“By her head was a bent knife and a large pool of blood…her neck was cut so deep that knife impressions were left on her spine,” the complaint said. He was charged with second-degree murder.
On April 7th last year, a 45 year-old Liberian and resident of Atlanta, GA, Aaron Garsua McClain, was charged with shooting his wife to death, Betty Mulbah. Betty, according to a police complaint, died of gunshot wounds at her home on Cinnamon Fern Circle near Brown Bridge Road in GA.
Again in March last year, a Liberian youth, Abdullah Sheriff, 19, of Willingboro, New Jersey, was charged with one count of murder for the shooting death of 12 year-old Abenego Wesseh, another Liberian.
Then came Tuesday, April 14, 2015 when Pierre Collins, 33, of Crystal, Minnesota was charged in the murder of his 10 year-old son Barway Edwin Collins. The charge came almost a month when charming little Barway varnished March 18, soon after he exited his school bus at their Cedarwood Apartment. His body was later found in the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
What could be reasons behind a surge in domestic violence in US-Liberian Community?
Exactly what could be the reasons behind the rise in domestic violence within the US-Liberian immigrant community? This writer put the question to two Liberian professionals; a US based medical doctor, Lawrence Amos Zumo, of Baltimore, Maryland and Newark, New Jersey resident, James Momoh who once worked for the BBC in Liberia and now a lecturer at the National Defense University, a military institute in D.C. that hosts trainings for army personnel from around the world including Africa. Their answers were all the same.
Both squarely blamed the brutal Liberia civil wars characterized by extreme violence against civilians, mostly women and children. They said it doesn’t matter whether or not people engaged in active combats; the fact that they witnessed such violence; it affected them, though the trauma may not have surfaced immediately. Most of these war-affected people fled Liberia to the US and other parts of the world without undergoing counseling.
And the worst groups the two believe are those thousands of young men and women that fought for various rebel factions but never had the opportunity of going through a proper and systemic demobilization process, let alone counseling at the end of the wars. This group of people is in the “Worst case scenario,” according to Dr. Zumo and journalist Momoh. All of these combine, could be reasons for the widespread violence nowadays within the immigrant Liberian community.
But for Pierre Collins and a list of Liberians cited earlier, it will be difficult to find a conclusive answer as to whether any belongs to one of the groups or both as cited since no journalist so far in the US or in Liberia has undertaken the task of their individual life-stories during the war era.