The 75-year-old meant no harm when he turned to a group of young men sitting near him on a Metro Transit bus one afternoon last week and asked them to quiet down.
Instead, the seemingly inconsequential encounter led to violence, costing Shirwa Hassan Jibril his life and leaving his family grieving at his grave site on a cold and gray November day.
Across town Thursday, a 23-year-old Minneapolis man sat in jail, charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Jibril, who was remembered by friends and loved ones as a humble, peaceful man who spoke four languages and cared for both the young and old in his Somali community.
“I feel so sad,” said Jibril’s niece, Zim Zim Mohammed, who said her uncle was merely riding the bus home when the confrontation occurred. The 23-year-old allegedly punched Jibril after the two got off the bus, sending Jibril falling to the pavement, where he hit his head. He died six days later.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mohammed said.
For those who knew the Somali refugee, the loss cuts deep. For those who didn’t, it seems incomprehensible that an elderly man would be attacked simply because he asked others to be quieter.
Jibril, a father of eight and grandfather to seven, came to the United States from Somalia in 2007 after spending time in the Middle East, Italy and Germany. Back in his homeland, he taught high school and worked as an interpreter. In Minneapolis, he took elderly people who didn’t speak English to their appointments, collected money for orphans back in Somalia, picked up trash as he walked the neighborhood and took time to talk with young people, telling them stories about his youth.
“He told kids to go back to school,” said Abdi Abdi, Jibril’s nephew.
They listened and their lives were changed.
“He was a miracle man,” Abdi Abdi said. “We lost a great man.”
The deadly confrontation developed after Jibril got on the bus after leaving the Karmel Mall on the afternoon of Nov. 6.
While riding, he turned to Leroy Davis-Miles and his friends, who sat nearby, and asked them to “not be so loud,” according to a criminal complaint. A “brief antagonistic verbal exchange” occurred followed by someone saying “beat him” multiple times, according to a search warrant affidavit based on bus and transit center video surveillance.
Jibril got off the bus at the Chicago Lake Transit Center. As he exited, a male voice can be heard on the video calling out: “Hop out if you want to, [expletive]. I’m gonna beat your ass.”
Davis-Miles and several other men followed Jibril off the bus. Based on witness accounts, Davis-Miles punched Jibril, who fell and hit his head. The young man shook hands “in a congratulatory manner” with one of his friends as Jibril lay unconscious, the complaint said.
Over the next six days, family and friends came to Jibril’s bedside at HCMC, knowing there was little hope he would survive the brain injury.
“There’s nothing wrong in asking people to quiet down,” said Hassan Mahdi Abdo, who knew Jibril since the two were teens in Somalia. “A man of his age isn’t going to fight. What could a man of his age do to a young 20-year-old? He was a man of peace.
“The community here is crying.”
Jibril’s youngest daughter, Leila Adan, said she will hold onto her memories and the advice her father always gave.
“He told me to pray,” she said. “He said, ‘Life is short. The world is small. Remember where you came from. Remember who you are.’ ”
Along with grief comes anger.
“We come from a society that respects the elderly,” she said. “If you can’t respect someone, then you should walk away.”
That her father died the way he did is “stupid. A 23-year-old should know better,” she said. “He can go to hell.”
Abdi, Jibril’s nephew, is pained by the loss but said he doesn’t feel that same anger.
“I feel sorry for our loss. We lost a great man,” he said. “The 23-year-old messed up his life … his future. He’s 23 and he’s in jail.”
Those who know Davis-Miles struggle to understand the violent encounter.
Walt McFadden, a church pastor, was a father figure of sorts during Davis-Miles’ younger days. McFadden’s sons were 5 and 7 years old; Davis-Miles was 4 and his home life was dysfunctional when McFadden’s family first took him in.
“He went everywhere with us,” McFadden said.
But things began to change when Davis-Miles was in high school. He didn’t attend church nearly so often and he got a girl pregnant, McFadden said.
“That’s when we started losing Roy,” McFadden said.
Eventually, Davis-Miles fathered three children, and Minneapolis police knew him as a gang member.
A few months ago, Davis-Miles was shot in the groin and survived, McFadden said. A few weeks ago, he was a passenger in a car that was shot up. The driver and another passenger suffered wounds, he said.
McFadden saw Davis-Miles two weeks ago at church, and they talked about the young man surviving the recent bouts of violence.
“He said to me, ‘Walt, I had two strikes and one more and I guess I’m out.’ ”
“You keep playing with fire,” McFadden said. “And eventually, you’re going to get burned …
“He had every opportunity — an army of people reaching out to him to help him,” he added. “Everybody says they wish they would have tried harder with him but I don’t know how we could have tried harder. Now he’s facing justice. He has to live with the consequences of his choice.”
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.