#JusticeforZemir: Family of Bosnian man killed in St. Louis claims it was a hate crime
Zemir Begic, 32, died early Sunday morning in a St. Louis hospital hours after city attorneys say four teenagers beat him following a brief altercation.
Begic was reportedly getting into his car with three others in St. Louis’s Bevo Mill neighborhood at around 1:15 a.m. Sunday morning when, according to prosecutors, four suspects started yelling at the group. Begic drove off, but soon after one of the suspects allegedly jumped on the back of his automobile and began striking it. Begic then exited the vehicle and was attacked by the teens.
The subsequent autopsy concluded that Begic was struck in the head, face and abdomen with a blunt object by the assailants. Sam Dotson, the chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police, told Post-Dispatch reporter Joel Currier that the teens were equipped with at least two hammers at the time of the slaying.
Three teens have so far been taken into custody in relation to the killing, although only the oldest — Robert Mitchell, 17 — has been charged as of Monday; he’s slated to be tried as an adult and face charges of murder in the first degree and armed criminal action — both felonies. Meanwhile, city officials have declined to say whether or not the other two suspects in custody, ages 15 and 16, will face the same charges; a fourth suspect has been identified but reportedly not yet detained.
Dotson, the chief of police, told the Post-Dispatch that there was “no indication” that the suspects — who are black and Hispanic — targeted Begic because ethnicity.
“We think it was wrong place, wrong time,” police spokeswoman Schron Jackson said.
Friends and family of the victim aren’t as certain, however, and now the largest Bosnian community in the United States is reeling in response to the tragedy while searching for an explanation.On Sunday evening, around 50 people — mostly Bosnians, according to the Post-Dispatch — attended protests in the Bevo Hill spot where Begic was killed. On Monday, attendance at a similar vigil totaled roughly 300.
“We’re just angry because we’re trying to protect our community,” 29-year-old Mirza Nukic of St. Louis told the paper. “We’re just trying to be peaceful.”
Amra Begic, a cousin of the victim, told the Associated Press that she believes the attack was a hate crime.
“I don't know if Missouri has the death penalty, but in this case, an eye for an eye,” she told the AP. “I think that's how everyone in the Bosnian community feels that at this point.”
— Nicholas J.C. Pistor (@nickpistor) December 1, 2014
“I don’t know why this is happening to Bosnians,” 49-year-old Suad Nuranjkovic, a passenger in Begic’s car at the time of the incident, added to the Post-Dispatch. “We could go around and shoot people, too, but we just want peace.”
"I’m just lucky. God is on my side," another passenger, Seldin Dzananovic, told the paper. Dzananovic, 24, suffered only minor cuts to his neck and hands, he told the paper.
Begic’s fiancé, Arijana Mujkanovic, was a passenger as well at the time of the incident and witnessed her husband-to-be killed in cold blood early Sunday morning.
"The last thing he did before he actually died was pull me out of the way and put himself in front of me, basically giving up his life for me," Mujkanovic told KSDK.
According to The Atlantic, St. Louis boasted more Bosnians per capita — around 70,000 in all — than any place outside of Bosnia as of 2013. The AP reported that Begic moved to St. Louis this year from Waterloo, Missouri, and had graduated high school in Minnesota. Fox News reported that Begic and his family fled Bosnia for the US in 1996 in the aftermath of a multiyear war and lived in New York, Iowa and Arizona before settling in Minnesota, then Missouri.
“He loved America,” the victim’s sister, 23-year-old Denisa Begic of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “We come from Bosnia because we were getting killed and our homes and families were getting destroyed. Never in my life did I think he would get murdered.”