See more of the story

When Atinuke Ladipo got the call last month that her son had been seriously injured in a fight, the news didn't sink in at first.

Even after she and her husband got to North Memorial Health Hospital and saw Awwal Ladipo, 25, lying motionless under a tangle of tubes, she couldn't believe what happened.

"So we prayed, we called all our pastors, all the Nigerian pastors in our community, even the Liberians," she said. "It was like a horror movie, watching your son die, just sitting there and I couldn't do anything."

Two days later he was dead.

Witnesses told police that Awwal had been jumped by a group of men outside an after-hours party July 24 near N. Lowry and Newton avenues in north Minneapolis. As he lay vulnerable, several of his attackers continued punching and kicking him, his mother said.

Ladipo said the friends her son was with that night have offered few other details about the beating. But several of them later reposted videos of the assault on Instagram. In one clip, an unidentified man is seen punching Awwal while holding him in a headlock. Someone off-screen can be heard telling the assailant to "let him go." Another clip shows Awwal getting knocked to the ground and left unconscious.

Homicide investigation

Police said they are investigating the case as a homicide; a preliminary report released by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office said that the cause of death was blunt-force head trauma, but said that the manner under which Awwal died remains under investigation.

But that matters little to Atinuke Ladipo, who spoke of the sorrow of outliving her firstborn child.

He was in his prime, she said, after getting married last year and then starting an internship at an IT company in Burnsville. He also helped out with the family's home care business. For the past few months, he had been saving up to start his own business, with a plan of buying up condos, rehabilitating them and renting them out on Airbnb, she said.

Born in 1996 in Ibadan, Nigeria, he moved overseas with his family at an early age, first to Canada and then Minnesota, where he graduated from St. Cloud State University.

But he always tried to stay connected to his West African roots, speaking Yoruba at home and filling his playlists with songs from Burna Boy, Wizkid and other rappers from Nigeria's burgeoning hip-hop scene.

Whatever he was, he wasn't a fighter, his mother said. She had raised him in the church, instilling the value of working hard and respecting his elders. An online fundraising page set up for the family features a Bible verse, Matthew 11:28: "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest."

"This is a boy that people would ask me if they could introduce him to their niece or their daughter," Atinuke said.

Awwal, whom many people knew as "A-Boy," used to greet people with a respectful bow, his mother recalled, which made him a favorite with family, friends and strangers alike. He was also someone people would turn to for help, she said.

He had been helping his younger sister apartment hunt as she prepared to start law school this fall. His death left her "torn to pieces," and she decided to put off her enrollment until next year, according to Atinuke.

"She's hurt and she wanted revenge, she wanted justice," Atinuke said.

She said the detectives on her son's case told her that they had identified at least one of the alleged assailants, who had retained an attorney. But, she says, detectives haven't provided with her many more details. On Monday, a police spokesman said that a 22-year-old man has been arrested and awaits charges. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.

Desperate for information, she forced herself to watch some of the clips of the assault that were posted on social media, and instantly regretted it.

"It's agony, it's agonizing — it's the way he died. I saw the video; it's traumatic. No parent should see it," she said. "They killed my son just like he was a piece of trash."

'Heart was snatched away'

In between making funeral arrangements, she has fielded phone calls from well-wishers from overseas and from the family's former home in British Columbia, Canada.

Anything, she says, to keep her mind off what happened.

But even now, she feels "like my heart was snatched away from me."

"I can't eat. I can't sleep," she said. "It's a nightmare that I will never wake up from — that's how I feel."

Along with his mother, Ladipo is survived by his father, Adebayo; wife, Lisa; siblings Tobi and Noah, and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and nephews. Family and friends are planning a candlelight vigil between 9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday at 3233 98th Circle N., Brooklyn Park. A graveside service on Wednesday will be livestreamed.