These families fled their war-torn country, only to be surrounded by daily gunfire in north St. Louis. On April 3, nine-year-old Rama said strangers grabbed her and two friends. Rama said she broke free.
“They ran after me and I ran home and pushed in the door,” she said.
She said one man and one woman still clutched eight-year-old Fadia and five-year-old Abul. She said the strangers chased after Rama inside an apartment.
Witnesses suspect the strangers thought the apartment was empty.
Rama said one of the suspected kidnappers warned, “Have gun; have gun.” She said they pointed to someone outside with a gun.
Rama’s mother, Kawthar Alabed, was inside the apartment. She cried as she described fighting with the strangers via a translator.
“He got up to try to grab the kids. The other woman pushed her onto the ground,” Alabed said.
Everything changed when Syd Hajicek walked in. Hajicek works as a volunteer who was bringing groceries.
“I was just so shocked,” he said.
Alabed said when Hajicek came in, the woman changed her tone and “started acting like she’s innocent.”
Hajicek was unaware of the armed individual outside the building.
“I had no idea. I mean, I felt like the guy was armed, but I couldn’t tell,” he said.
St. Louis police investigated and wrote a police report, noting surveillance cameras, which slowly rotate, did not record any suspects.
“I think it was human trafficking of some kind,” Hajicek said. “I think they were after the kids. I think all of the reports corroborate that.”
Dhoruba Shakur is part of a search and rescue coalition formed because of reports of hundreds of missing kids in the St. Louis area.
“I didn`t expect to come to the reality there`s so many missing kids,” he said.
Shakur and others spent eight nights armed, watching the neighborhood around the Syrians.
“They all articulated the same thing, that these people came in, they tried to snatch them, there were three people, there were guns involved,” he said.
And he believes them.
“With a lot of these immigrants that come over for whatever reason, they’re a lot of times placed in impoverished communities and these communities already have their own issues,” Shakur said. “People are literally selling individuals to be in the sex trade.”
Syd said, “I think they`re just looking for who`s most vulnerable, who`s least likely to be able to tell the police what happened.”
Buthaina Noman, Alabed’s translator, said she hoped speaking out will help the missing kid problem.
“(Alabed) knows about it and somebody near her actually got kidnapped recently, so they’re kind of aware of what’s going on,” Noman said. “They just want to be part of the neighborhood. They don’t want to be afraid and be here scared. They just came here to put their kids in schools and give them a better life.”
About eight families are close to moving out of the neighborhood where they report hearing nightly shootings. They’re currently on Hodiamont, north of Etzel. Crime has continued, but they haven’t seen any other sign of the people they report swarming around their children last month.
You can learn more about these refugees and the current effort to improve their quality of life on the Refugee Crisis Lifeline Facebook page.