Fearing the outbreak of civil war in his native Somalia, Mohamed Noor’s father decided the time had come for his family to flee.
So it was that sometime after his fifth birthday, Noor, along with his parents and three siblings, boarded a bus bound for a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya. To avoid armed patrols, they traveled at night.
On Thursday, a clearer picture emerged of the soft-spoken Noor, who took the witness stand in his own defense, speaking his first public words since the shooting two years ago that landed him in the headlines, got him fired and led to him being charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
His testimony Thursday finally began to pull away the shroud of mystery that has surrounded the 33-year-old who repeatedly declined to speak with state investigators or a grand jury reviewing the shooting.
Noor told jurors Thursday that he now lives in Minneapolis with his wife and 8-year-old son from his first marriage. His father works as a cultural liaison for the Minneapolis School District, while his mother is a homemaker, he said.
He comes from a family of high-achievers, with one sister running a real estate company in St. Louis, and another having earned a master’s degree in public health. One of his brothers received his master’s in political science from a university in Israel and is now doing humanitarian work in Africa, while another brother is a doctor, Noor said.
But their story started thousands of miles and an ocean away.
He was born in 1985 in Qoryoley — a small agricultural town about 75 miles southeast of the capital of Mogadishu — where his father worked for a British nongovernmental organization and also tended to the family farm. But with the prospect of civil war, his parents plotted their escape from the country and found themselves in a refugee camp across the border in Kenya.
Nearly two years later, Noor’s father managed to secure a visa to come to the U.S. through his work with the United Nations, Noor testified.
The former officer spent part of Thursday’s hearing telling the jury — in cautious, sometimes halting remarks — about the trouble he had at first adjusting to life in America. In some ways, his journey to Minneapolis typified the urban immigrant experience.
After landing in New York, Noor’s family flew on to Chicago, where his father found work as a taxi driver and moved the family into an apartment in downtown. His mother, who was pregnant with her fifth child at the time, would join them later, Noor said.
“Settling in Chicago, it was a culture shock for me and my siblings and my parents,” he said.
The family relocated to south Minneapolis in 1998 after five years in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, they obtained full citizenship. By then Noor was in seventh grade. Coming from a predominantly African-American school in Chicago, he experienced a different kind of culture shock, he said.
“My peers there accepted me, but when I moved here, no one liked Somalis and I picked that up right away,” he said. Joining a football team, helped him come out of his shell and start to socialize more, he said.
The family moved again when Noor was in 8th grade, this time to New Hope; he graduated from high school in Robbinsdale.
After a brief stint at North Hennepin Community College, he enrolled at Augsburg College in August of 2007. He was married a year or two later, and his son was born in 2010. The couple would later divorce. After graduating from Augsburg with a dual degree in economics/business administration and management, he found work as an assistant manager at a hotel and, later, a pharmaceutical analyst. Then one day while perusing the city of Minneapolis’ website, Noor said an online job posting to be a police officer caught his eye.
When asked in court Thursday why he applied, Noor said that he wanted to give back to his community.
“I always wanted to serve, primarily the city of Minneapolis and the diverse community there,” he said. “I fell in love with the city and wanted to serve.”