Yesterday’s tragic shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, NY is not the first such shooting at a refugee resettlement office in the US. In 1997 a refugee entered a Catholic Charities office in Phoenix with a rifle, but the only fatality that day was the refugee himself.
Here is the story (Lost in America) from Salon.com about a shooting incident involving Sudanese refugee, Simon Deng:
…..Jany Deng, 26, landed in Phoenix in 1995; he and his blood brother Simon were two of the first four Lost Boys to arrive in Arizona. Their saga had begun 10 years before.
While herding cattle in 1985, Jany and other boys from his village witnessed the destruction of their homes by government-backed Islamic militias. They took off running, beginning a multiyear exodus that spanned East Africa and countries around the globe. Many of their parents were murdered and their sisters raped, enslaved and killed. (As a result, there are fewer Lost Girls.)
For years, tens of thousands of Lost Boys walked more than 1,000 miles across East Africa, thousands dying of starvation, disease, and militia and animal attacks. Jany and his group first went east to Ethiopia, where Jany was reunited with Simon, who had made it there with another group of Lost Boys. But when civil war flared up in 1990, they fled back to Sudan. They returned to nothing: Their family and village were gone. Eventually they trekked to Kenya, winding up in the Dadaab refugee camp. After a year in Dadaab, they were among the first few relocated to the United States.
America is like going to Heaven.
In the 2003 documentary film “Lost Boys of Sudan,” one Lost Boy expresses the shared perception, while in the Kakuma refugee camp, of what it will be like to leave for America: “This journey is like you are going to heaven.”
When Jany and Simon arrived in Arizona, Jany, then age 16, was sent to live with a foster family; Simon, 23, shared an apartment with two older boys. It was a pattern that continued from coast to coast as more of them came; the minors were resettled with families, while older Lost Boys were placed in dingy apartments, often cramped together, in rough city neighborhoods or on the outskirts of towns.
I can’t help mentioning here that we have many times advocated that, if we are going to be bringing refugees to the US, the refugees must be sponsored by families or other groups (church groups, civic groups etc.) so that they have someone to look out for them, to help them assimilate, to be their personal friend. I’m not saying this Phoenix incident could have been prevented, but the practice of placing refugees with impersonal agencies who in turn place refugees in lousy apartments in bad neighborhoods must take a toll on some mentally fragile immigrants.
In April 1997, Simon Deng snapped and went looking for his caseworkers at the Catholic resettlement agency he had been placed with originally.
In Phoenix, Jany attended school, made friends and joined the track team; Simon couldn’t keep a job. He told Jany that “people looked at him different and made comments.” By the spring of 1997, Simon had grown despondent. He wanted to bring his girlfriend from Dadaab to Arizona, but to no avail. He had no money or job prospects. According to Jany, Simon began to speak of suicide.
On Apr. 10, 1997, Simon bought a 9MM rifle and rode a city bus toward the Catholic Social Services office building in North Phoenix. He got off the bus, took the rifle out of its box and fired it in the parking lot of a Circle K convenience store before heading to the office. A police helicopter and officers responded as Simon entered Catholic Social Services at lunchtime. Once inside, Simon looked for his caseworkers and, according to the police report, began firing his gun in the air. No one was hurt. The police arrived at the building and Simon shot at Officer Terrence Kobza. Kobza returned fire and killed Simon with a bullet in the arm and another in the chest.
Sooner or later we will find out what caused Voong (or whatever his name is) to attack the very agency that was set up to help him. Were Simon Deng and Jiverly Voong just mentally unstable and then somehow, for no reason, blamed the resettlement agency for the unhappy turn of their lives? We may never know, but it’s worth considering.