LEWISTON —For Fowsia Musse, her return to the Ethiopian city of Jigjiga after nearly three decades wasn’t the homecoming she expected.

Fowsia Musse sits Monday in the office of Maine Community Integration on Lisbon Street in Lewiston where she was the executive director before being shot while visiting family in Ethiopia last fall. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The Auburn resident, who is one of the leaders of Maine’s Somali community, arrived in a small jet on a rainy afternoon last October with two of her children in tow at the airport where her journey to the United States began as a teenager long ago.

They walked across the tarmac to a modest terminal at Jigjiga Garad Wilwal Airport, where Musse met her sister, Juweriya Subcis, a member of parliament who had visited Lewiston and Auburn a few months earlier.

They hugged each other, then tried to deal with baggage that had gone astray.

Giving up on their luggage for the time being, Musse, the executive director of the Lewiston-based Maine Community Integration, headed for the parking lot with her sister, 14-year-old son Moby and 8-year-old daughter Hawa.

At the door stood a man wearing a military-style uniform with red cap. He held a semi-automatic rifle.


Jigjiga Garad Wilwal Airport is in northeastern Ethiopia, a region where many Somali people live. Google Maps

“I remember him very well,” Musse said in an interview at her office last week. “He looked very young. Very tiny, an extremely petite person.”

Moby, who walked beside his aunt, turned to Musse and said, “Look, Mom. Look at the gun he’s carrying.”

Musse immediately asked her son, “Do you want to take a picture with him?”

“OK,” her son answered.

Calling herself naïve, she tapped his shoulder and said in a mix of languages, “Excuse me, brother, can we take a picture of you, please?”

Musse said he responded “with so much anger. He was like ‘get the hell out of here!’”


Fowsia Musses, middle left, stands last September in her kitchen in Auburn with her children, Hawa, 8, and Moby, 14, and her sister, Juweriya Subcis, right, before Subcis returned to Ethiopia after an extended visit to the United States. Submitted photo

Musse said she could not converse in his language, but she got the gist of it.

“Maybe he didn’t understand me,” Musse told her family, so she asked her sister if she would explain to the man she called a soldier that they merely wanted to get a photograph.

Subcis asked the man, “Can she take a picture of you?”

Musse said the soldier responded, “Get the hell out and don’t take a picture anywhere near the airport.”

Subcis told him they didn’t need his permission.

“You’re not that important,” Musse recalled her sister telling the man.


The soldier, wearing heavy winter gloves, then poked his hand at Subcis’ chest, Musse said.

So Musse slapped at his hand and told him, “Don’t touch her. Don’t touch her.”

Another soldier, unarmed, tried to deescalate the situation, Musse said, and her family began to leave.

Walking away, Musse said, “I’m carrying my backpack so I’m just looking around,” noting some tall grass and trees beyond the little parking lot outside.

Maybe two seconds later, Musse said, she heard a sound something like “too-too” and realized “he was loading the gun.”

As she heard “the clicking of the loading,” Musse said, “I’m thinking ‘I must be dreaming.”


But it was no dream.

Caught in a shooting spree

The next thing Musse heard was a loud boom.

The soldier, who has never been identified, held his gun slanted upward, she said, so she thought “duh, he’s firing a warning shot.”

But, no, he had sent a bullet into her sister’s head.

“I guess he shot her in the eye,” Musse said. “I didn’t even notice she fell. I think it was instant that she died.”

“And I’m like whaaaaaaaat?” Musse said.


Her children scampered away.

Frozen in place, Musse stared at the gunman from perhaps 6 feet away while he reloaded.

“And I guess he shot me, but I didn’t feel it. He shot me twice in the stomach, in the belly. I didn’t feel that.”

Musse said she yelled, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”

Fowsia Musse of Auburn was nearly killed in an Oct. 25, 2022, shooting spree at Jigjiga Garad Wilwal Airport in eastern Ethiopia when she arrived to visit her sister, who died in the attack. Courtesy of Abdirashid M. Dahir

The soldier loaded his gun again and fired two more bullets at Musse, hitting her right leg with each of them.

“He was like, go, die already,” Musse said.


The soldier left her and began firing at others, including Musse’s son, whose left arm was grazed by one shot.

The gunman “would load and it would go pow-pow, pow-pow,” Musse said.

“When he shot me in the leg, I felt like an electric shock,” and fell to the floor, she said.

“As soon as I hit the ground, he came above my sister” who lay just a couple inches away at her side. “He goes on top of her and shoots her right in the head, from very close.”

“Then he went on a rampage and started shooting everybody” around the baggage claim, just steps away, she said.

Musse said she could see his camouflaged military boots through a glass window “and he just went on shooting. All I hear was just too-too-too, too-too-too, too-too” over and over as gunshots rang out one after another.


“He didn’t look a normal person. I remember as he was shooting, he was also crying. He was literally wailing,” Musse said. “It was weird.”

On the ground, bleeding

Juweriya Subcis attends a debriefing session Oct. 13, 2022, at the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa for participants of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program she attended a few months earlier. A member of the Ethiopian Parliament, she was shot and killed later that month in a barrage of gunfire at  an airport in Jigjiga, Ethiopia, while greeting her sister and her children arriving from the United States.  Submitted photo

“I was on the ground for a long time. I don’t know how long. And I looked at my leg and I saw pieces of flesh everywhere and I couldn’t move,” Musse said. “I didn’t notice the stomach part.”

“I was trying to sleep. I didn’t know I’d lost so much blood,” Musse said, though looking back she can recall seeing it.

Musse said she took her pink hijab from her head and tied it tightly around her knee to try to stem the bleeding.

She said she saw her sister on the ground, lying “in a very peaceful position” with her hand propped beneath her head, not moving, and blood pooled under her head, already thickening.

A woman from Minnesota, who was also back for a family visit, stood nearby. She’d been shot in the mouth so that her face seemed to be dangling from her head, Musse said.


Musse said that all the while, she could still hear gunshots.

“I didn’t know if he was going to come back,” she said, so she determined to remain still, to try to appear dead.

But she also kept looking around for someone to help.

Her son rushed to her side from somewhere within the airport.

“Oh, mommy, mommy, mommy. What happened to you?” he yelled.

“Run! Run! Run!” Musse responded. “So he ran.”


Then another man, wearing white from head to toe, ran past, hyperventilating. He hid behind a column.

At her request, the fellow tried to pick her up, but her pain was too extreme so Musse told him to leave her. He ran for the woods.

Soon after, four or five soldiers rushed in from the parking lot. She kept playing dead as she listened.

Musse said she wondered if “maybe we just walked into a coup or something.”

When the soldiers drew close, she realized she could understand them, which meant they were likely local and probably friendly. They were telling each other to be careful and stay behind cover as they entered.

Musse said she lifted her head and looked at the closest soldier, a woman with a headcover. When she spoke Somali to the woman, the soldier told her to lay down.


Musse asked another soldier, a young man, to get an ambulance. He told her they didn’t have one.

“Stay down, stay down!” he told her, sweating profusely. “Help will come.”

“I don’t know how long I was down,” Musse said. “It felt like a lifetime.”

Rescued at last

Next, Musse said, she heard a car in the distance with Somali-speaking men. She hollered at them. One of the men called over a white pickup truck to come and assist survivors.

She wasn’t sure who they were or what they’d think, but decided to take a chance.

“Hey, that’s Juweriya,” she called to them. “The elected official. He kill her. He kill her. And I’m her sister from the United States.”

Hearing that, Musse said, the men “looked very distraught.”


“They picked me up and literally threw me in the back of the pickup truck,” she said, with her feet dangling, “with only a few skins” holding her lower leg to her knee.

“But I was not feeling any pain. Believe me, I was not feeling a single pain,” Musse said.

She had a carry-on bag and a backpack, she said, so she told them “I need my bags. I don’t want to leave without them.”

So Musse lay in the back of the pickup truck, clutching her bags, citing verses of the Qu’ran, prayer after prayer.

Musse’s children

Lying in the truck, Musse said she pleaded with her rescuers to look for her children.

But they couldn’t wait to round them up.


Earlier, when the shooter began loading his gun, she said, both Moby and Hawa raced away.

“My kids had an advantage over me,” she said. “They went through the school active shooter drills. They didn’t even wait for him to fire. They flee.”

She said her daughter hustled toward the parking lot.

Her son headed in a different direction.

The soldier tried to shoot the boy in the chest, Musse said, but the bullet “only grazed his left arm.”

Musse said it’s sad that children need to be taught what to do if somebody shows up with a gun.

“It’s useful, though. I can testify to that,” she said.

Timeline of Musse’s life

1982 — Fowsia Musse is born in Somalia
1989 — Fleeing the violence in Somalia, Musse moves with her family to the Somali regional state in neighboring Ethiopia
1995 — Musse, one of nine children, arrives in the United States as a refugee at the age of 14.
2019 — Juweriya Subcis is chosen for the U.S.-sponsored Young African Leadership Initiative
July 2022 — Subcis comes to the United States for a leadership program after her selection as a Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders
August 2022 — Subcis visits her older sister and her family in Auburn. They tour The Store Next Door in Lewiston as a possible model for a charity they plan to open in the Somali region of Ethiopia.
Oct. 18, 2022 — Musse and two of her children, Moby and Hawa, fly to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where her mother is getting cancer treatment
Oct. 25, 2022 — Musse and her children fly to Jigjiga Garad Wilwal Airport, where they become victims of a shooting spree by a federal police officer
Oct. 29, 2022 — Musse is taken to a hospital in Addis Ababa
Oct. 30, 2022 — Musse is transferred to the Norwegian-run Nordic Medical Centre in Addis Ababa, where surgeons amputate her right leg
Nov. 13, 2022 — Musse returns via air ambulance to Portland, Maine
Nov. 16, 2022 — Musse’s mother dies in Ethiopia
Feb. 7, 2023 — Musse is able to go home from the hospital

Next week: Fowsia Musse’s long recovery and her insights on everything that happened.

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