Police say 59-year-old Ahmed Dirir walked into his business, AK Home Health Care LLC, on Thursday afternoon, got into a brief argument, and then shot his three employees. Killed were 44-year-old Khadra Muse of Olivette, Mo., 29-year-old Seaeed Abdulla of St. Louis, and 54-year-old Bernice Solomon-Redd of East St. Louis, Ill.
Dirir, Muse and Abdulla were all from Somalia, said Omar Jamal of the Somali mission to the U.N. Jamal, who often gets involved in issues of high interest involving Somalis in the U.S., said he spoke with several friends and relatives of Dirir and the victims, including the wives of Dirir and Abdulla.
The home health agency was headquartered in a small business incubator building in a former movie theater on Cherokee Street, a revitalizing mixed-race neighborhood about five miles south of downtown St. Louis.
Police Capt. Michael Sack said Dirir used a semi-automatic handgun. Video surveillance showed what appeared to be a verbal dispute, followed a short time later by shots that penetrated an inside wall, Sack said. Neighbors in other businesses in the building called police after hearing gunfire.
A records search found no previous criminal record for Dirir except a couple of speeding cases. There was no record that he had a permit to carry a firearm.
Police haven't disclosed a motive, but Jamal said the relatives and friends of Dirir he spoke with described a marked change in his demeanor after he and his wife divorced in Texas years earlier. It wasn't clear when the divorce was finalized, though friends said Dirir had remarried.
"It is sad he didn't get attention that could have prevented all of this from happening," Jamal said.
Charles Kirkwood, a construction business owner and friend Dirir, described him as an extremely intelligent man with a good heart. The divorce was tough on Dirir, Kirkwood said.
"It hurt him," Kirkwood said. He declined to discuss whether Dirir ever showed violent tendencies or threatened violence.
Michael Graff, an attorney with an office in the incubator building, said he heard loud arguments from the home health agency from time to time, but that he hadn't known those disputes to become violent before.
Roble Mohamed, another friend of Dirir, offered another side of him. Mohamed said Dirir went out of his way to help new Somali immigrants get acclimated to life in America, teaching them English, accompanying them on job interviews, even showing them how to shop.
"He was very helpful to other Somalis as they came here," Mohamed said.
In addition to AK Home Health Care and Graff's law office, the business incubator building houses an African bazaar and a few other small businesses, Graff said. Developer Will Liebermann owns the building and was in his office when the shooting occurred. He did not return messages seeking comment Friday.
Vivian Little, 32, did contract work for Dirir's company as a home health care nurse. She had no inkling of trouble.
"They were real nice people," Little said. "They were real sweet. I can't believe this is happening."
Jamal said about 2,000 Somali immigrants are living in St. Louis.
"The community is very close-knit," Jamal said. "It is very hard to make any sense out of this. This is completely outside the frame of the Somali psyche."
St. Louis has long struggled with urban violence, but the last week has seen a troublesome uptick in bloodshed. Police scrambled late Monday and early Tuesday to respond to five different shootings on the city's north side that left 17 people wounded.