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‘Where is Omar?’ A roommate issues desperate plea for answers in police shooting

There’s a white plastic bag of fruit on the table in Choul William’s cramped bedsitter. Some of the once-bright orange clementines have greyed and dulled with mould. But he won’t touch them — they are his friend Omar’s, and until he sees his body, he refuses to believe he is gone.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s police watchdog was called to Regatta Plaza in the east end of St. John’s on June 12 to what it called an officer-involved shooting that left one man dead and a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer injured. The officer was treated in hospital and released the next day.

That same morning across town, William said his fellow Sudanese-Canadian roommate, Omar Mohammed, showered, ate breakfast, then left with headphones and a backpack on. 

Mohammed, 38, has been living with him in a small bungalow containing several rented bedrooms in the west end of St. John’s, since June 1. For days, William said, he slept on the floor — the only space left — while Mohammed used his bed. 

“Omar needed a place to stay that’s why he died for. He went to pick up his cheque, rental cheque,” said William in an interview Tuesday.

“He needed a rental cheque to stay here with me in this tiny room.”

Mohammed was going to get a government cheque to pay the landlord of the bedsitter while William went on a job search. 

But Mohammed never returned. 

A man is wearing a red dress shirt and grey suit jacket.
Omar Mohammed, 38, began living in St. John’s nearly a decade ago. (Submitted by Catherine Pretty)

“Where is Omar? What happened to him? Nobody tell me the truth,” said William.

William said he became concerned after he didn’t hear from Mohammed for several hours. Then, someone told him to check the news.

“They said, your friend has been shot. I said, ‘No, I don’t know, it’s not Omar.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you got to make sure, buddy.'”

Shortly after, William said he called 911. 

“Somebody left and didn’t come back. I told the police this guy has a mental issue, he left my house and didn’t come back. I heard rumours someone got shot — could it be him or no?” William said, adding the person who he spoke with told him they would call him back, but did not.

William said he received a call Monday, a week after the shooting, from a member of SIRT-NL who arranged a meeting for Wednesday. He suspects he will be officially told what happened. 

WATCH | Choul William speaks with CBC News about his friend Omar Mohammed: 

where is omar a roommate issues desperate plea for answers in police shooting 1

Roommate of man presumed killed in encounter with police wants answers

19 hours ago

Duration 9:54

Choul William says his friend Omar Mohammed didn’t come home last Monday, and he has been trying for more than a week to confirm he is the person who was shot and killed by police last week.

Waiting for burial

SIRT-NL said last Tuesday it would not be publicly releasing any further details until Mohammed’s next of kin was notified. But William and other members of the Sudanese community who spoke to CBC News reject the idea that his non-biological family couldn’t be notified too, given the fact that Mohammed arrived in Canada without any other family and has been largely supported by fellow former refugees.

They say they are distressed that Mohammed has not yet been buried. A member of the Sudanese community who tracked down living relatives at a refugee camp in Chad, a country in north-central Africa, said they haven’t been notified yet.

“I want to see him. I have make sure this is Omar,” said William. “And at that time, I will tell my community Omar is dead. The community will come together and bury him.”

In the corner of the bedroom the two men shared are all that’s left of Mohammed: Blankets, a folding chair and a black suit jacket.

His death doesn’t just mark the end of a life, William said, but the loss of years of effort he and doctors put in to keep his friend healthy and his mind occupied from the horrors of war he left behind. 

“He used to cry by myself. You’d see him, Omar is good, suddenly he’d cry and suddenly he’d love and then suddenly he’d talk to himself, just like that. Suddenly he could be quiet for a long time. Not even say a word,” said William. 

Mohammed was a child solider in Darfur, a war-stricken region of western Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of people have died. Millions more have been displaced since the early 2000s. Mohammed later fled to a refugee camp in Ghana and stayed there for three years before being designated as a refugee by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Hands open a plastic bag containing clementines.
Choul William opens a bag of fruit that his roommate, Omar Mohammed, left behind last Monday when he headed to get a government cheque to pay his rent. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Mohammed came to St. John’s in 2014. But William said he was consumed by the death he had witnessed and the violence that is still happening today, and two years ago asked to be repatriated to Sudan. 

“I told him Canada is safe, stay here in Canada, we will try, doctors, everyone will do our best to make you a good man and forget what happened and start a new life,” William said.

“I didn’t know they would kill him. What’s the difference? They will kill him in Darfur and they kill him here.”

What happened inside the provincial government employment services building has not been publicly disclosed. 

RNCA offers support to members

Mohammed had a criminal record, was known to police and was wanted on a warrant for breaching court orders. However, it is not immediately clear if he died while police were attempting to execute the warrant, or if they were called to the office for another reason.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association issued a statement late Friday calling the situation a tragedy for all involved, and for the community.

“The use of deadly force is one aspect of policing that should never be taken lightly and we are fully cooperating with the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) as they investigate the incident,” said the statement, signed by RNCA president Staff Sgt. Mike Summers.

“As an association we are also committed to working with our members through this difficult period to ensure that they receive the supports necessary following a potentially traumatic situation.” 

In an email Tuesday, SIRT-NL director Michael King said there was no new update in its investigation. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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