Zemir Begic's family thought they'd be safe in America after escaping war and bloodshed in Bosnia in 1996. So when he was found beaten to death by teenagers with hammers on a south St. Louis street this weekend, it came as a devastating shock.
"We came to America to get away from crime because we were getting killed," says Zemir's sister, Denisa Begic, 23. "We were refugees. Our families were getting killed, their houses got destroyed and bombed. We came to America to escape from this, and what happens? My brother gets murdered in America."
Early Sunday morning, police found Zemir unconscious with injuries to his head, abdomen, face and mouth in the 4200 block of Itaska Street, just a mile south of his home. St. Louis police said a group of teens first attacked his car and then turned their hammers on him when he got out.
The juveniles fled by foot after the attack. Police later took two of the youth into custody: a sixteen-year-old male and a fifteen-year-old male.
A 17-yr old male has been taken into custody for homicide of Zemir Begic. A total of 3 suspects now in custody. Investigation is ongoing.— St. Louis, MO Police (@SLMPD) December 1, 2014
"I can't believe this happened to my brother," Denisa tells Daily RFT from South Dakota. "They took something away from us that is our blood. I just wish I could kiss him one last time."
St. Louis is home to the largest Bosnian community outside of Bosnia, and as word spread of Zemir's brutal death, dozens of Bosnians gathered at Gravois Avenue and Morganford Road, peacefully shutting down the intersection.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson told protesters that two suspects were in custody and police are searching for two more. (Update, 10 a.m.: Three suspects are now in custody.)"There is no indication that the gentleman last night was targeted because he was Bosnian," Dotson told the crowd of more than 70 people. "There was no indication that he was targeted because of who he was or where he came from."
Chief Sam Dotson meeting with city's Bosnian community. Street protest over murder of 32 year old man. 2 in custody pic.twitter.com/6Y1NU6yvz0— Matt Sczesny KMOV (@KMOVMatt) November 30, 2014
Denisa describes her brother as a talented singer who would drop everything to help a friend or family member. When Denisa's car broke down, he drove out to help her fix it. When a relative needed money for groceries, he gave them what they needed.
"He was an amazing person," Denisa says. "He would give you the clothes off his back."
A family friend launched an online fundraiser to raise money for his funeral arrangements, raising more than $2,500 by Sunday evening.Denisa says she last spoke to her brother on Thanksgiving and was looking forward to his 33rd birthday on December 7. Begic's brother and friends took to Twitter to share grief and anger over his killing:
I still can't believe my brother is gone— R a s i m B e g i c (@Rasim_Begic) November 30, 2014
RIP Zemir Begić from St.Louis, MO. Innocent man killed for no reason! My condolences to his friends and family.— Hasan Muhić (@djhazecny) November 30, 2014
Damn cant believe a good friend of mine is gone man... What is life RIP ZEMIR BEGIC— » Nervo ★ (@Nervzljak) November 30, 2014
Here's the full report from police:
Location: 4200 block of Itaska
Date/Time: 11/30/14 @ 01:15
Victim: Zemir Begic, 32-year old white male of the 4300 block of Miami
Suspect #1: 16-year old black male
Suspect #2: 15-year old Hispanic male
Officers responded to the above location for the victim of an assault and upon arrival, located the victim unconscious with apparent injuries to his head, abdomen, face and mouth. He was conveyed to a hospital where he was pronounced deceased. Investigation revealed the victim was traveling in his vehicle when several juveniles approached his vehicle on foot and began damaging it. The victim exited his vehicle and the juveniles began yelling at the victim and striking him with hammers. After the assault, the juveniles fled the scene on foot. Two juvenile suspects were located and remanded to the custody of Juvenile authorities. The investigation is ongoing.