The Catch-22 of Gun Violence in America

The Oak Creek shooting at a Wisconsin gurudwara, the man who shot and killed an Indian man in Kansas, and the Sandy Hook shooting all affected South Asian Americans. Yet, South Asian Americans also fear how their identity implicates them, even when they aren’t guilty.

Syeda and Mamnun

Samira Sadeque


April 16, 2019

For Mamnun Ahmed, everything that morning was about the gingerbread house.

A few hours later, he would survive one of America’s worst mass shootings. But, as Ahmed boarded the school bus to Sandy Hook Elementary, the six-year-old was only thinking about how his parents weren’t coming to see his gingerbread house at school. “I even told the bus driver to help him bring it on his way back home,” his mother Syeda Suriya Ahmed recalled.

She was at home, busy folding laundry. Later, after repeated phone calls from Sandy Hook Elementary, her husband Mahbub Ahmed checked the news.

At Sandy Hook, Mamnun Ahmed and the other students first heard the sound of glass breaking. Then, Ahmed noticed that his teacher, Ms. Monahan, got a call. “She was talking through her cell phone, which is very irregular,” he recalled. “She wasn’t allowed to have her cell phone out.” He and his friend even joked that they would tell on her.

“Then, she was talking to the teacher from the other classes [in the next room], and...they had frantic faces,” he remembered. The teacher in the first classroom from the school entrance had “barricaded” the children inside a bathroom.

Back at home, Ahmed’s mother, who couldn’t drive, was frantically going door-to-door to find a ride to Sandy Hook.

Eventually, a neighbor appeared and drove her to the school.

Inside the school, trying to hide her tears, Ms. Monahan told the class to gather near the cubbies and read together. The cubbies were behind a small wall, not immediately visible from the door. “She didn’t want us to talk, but she knew if we went quiet he would hear everything, She tried to cover the sound, but she wasn’t successful,” Ahmed explained. “We heard everything.”

He doesn’t remember the name of the book, but he remembers how close the shooter, Adam Lanza, was to their room — “just a few feet” — when the cops caught him. He remembers the next classroom covered with blood and being escorted to the “Fire House,” where he remembers waiting, along with classmates, for two hours before his mother picked him up.

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