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Ikram Idd, 32, saw her brother Dolal for the last time three weeks before his death. Their younger sister Ilhan was getting married in a small at-home reception. But Dolal couldn’t come to the wedding. 

Dolal did visit Ikram’s home the day before the wedding though. She urged her brother to stay the night. But he said goodbye, Ikram said, as if for the last time. For almost his whole life, Dolal, 23, had lived with his parents. But like his older brothers, Dolal left home, too.

Dolal sent a long text to Ilhan congratulating her on the wedding. That night, Ikram texted Dolal, too, and once again urged him to come home.

“I just need some time to clear my head,” Ikram recalled Dolal saying. “I’m sure you guys need a break from me, but I’ll be back.”

Ikram responded to Dolal and said, “Just know that we love you very much and that we never need a break from you.”

Three weeks later, in the first Twin Cities police shooting since the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis police killed the 23-year-old in an exchange of gunfire at a gas station in south Minneapolis.

Police warrants suggest law enforcement was pursuing a gun-sale sting through a confidential informant. But as an explanation for Dolal’s death, a hole lay at the center of this account: What brought Dolal Idd to that Holiday gas station? And what would have prompted him to fire at police—as he’s accused of doing—through a closed car window? 

Three days later, about a thousand protesters gathered outside the same gas station seeking answers.

On January 3, protesters gathered at the Holiday gas station where Minneapolis police fatally shot Dolal Idd. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

In the wake of the George Floyd killing, a number of writers—in Minneapolis and across the country—examined who Floyd was before the violent tragedy that played out in the video with Derek Chauvin. The George Floyd who won a basketball scholarship, recorded hip-hop tracks, battled addiction, and worked peaceably as a nightclub security guard. 

As the trial for Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, sputters to a start in Minneapolis, the case of Dolal lingers as another painful, unclosed chapter for the community: a Black man whose life has been almost completely shadowed by his death. Members of Dolal’s family joined protesters once again at the Minnesota governor’s residence for a rally Sunday, still in search of an explanation.

The police investigation hasn’t shed a lot of light on Dolal’s personal history before the shooting. So I reached out to his family, and asked if they could help me fill out that missing portrait. 

Back in January, when I first spoke to Dolal’s oldest sister, Ikram, at her parents’ home in Eden Prairie, the family had difficult decisions to make. Was a lawsuit necessary to seek justice for Dolal? Or would the police investigation suggest a different course? 

But over the two months Ikram kept in touch with me about how her family was coping, I found that they were wrestling with a different set of questions—heavier matters, separate from the warrants and lawsuits. How did a quiet kid who liked basketball and video games end up in a police shootout? What signs had Dolal’s parents missed?

Ikram may have known the most: She handled communications with his probation officer, for example. But she, too, wondered what more she could have done to find out what Dolal was really going through.

I also spoke with a few friends of Dolal’s who shared the challenges he faced in his final days. 

At first, those close to Dolal left certain details unsaid about his criminal history and his struggle with mental health. Ikram originally requested the details of his mental illness remain private. Local media had already published information about his criminal charges and she didn’t want him to be remembered by just that. 

But after more conversations, I realized that even Ikram—who took an active role in Dolal’s life—didn’t know the full extent of the struggles he faced. 

At times it felt like we were all learning about Dolal together. 

Almost three months after Dolal Idd died, protesters once again gathered—this time in Saint Paul—to demand answers. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

‘He was such a sweet boy’: Growing up ‘miskeen’

Ikram, a mother of three and an older sister to 10, is accustomed to talking in a busy home. But during our interview, their family’s home was quiet, save for her little brothers playing and listening to nursery rhymes in another room.

We sat in the living room near the front entrance under a bright chandelier. I had only seen the room in a grainy body-cam video of the weapons raid that police conducted in the middle of the night on December 31. 

It was the same room where the Idd family learned Minneapolis police officers had fatally shot Dolal.

Dolal was born July 18, 1997. When he was about three years old, his family immigrated to the United States from Somalia. He has—he had—six brothers and four sisters. His father, Bayle Adod Gelle, runs a home health agency.

Ikram called Dolal ‘miskeen,’ an Arabic word that means ‘poor,’ but is often used to describe someone who’s a bit naïve.

Dolal’s oldest sister, Ikram, lives in Shakopee with her three sons, but she’s been visiting her parents a lot since the killing. As the eldest sibling, Ikram described herself as a “second mom” to her siblings. Growing up, Ikram often kept an eye on Dolal and brothers and sisters closer to her own age, while Ikram’s mom watched over the younger ones. Four of Dolal’s younger brothers and two of his younger sisters currently live at home with their parents. 

Dolal spent most of his adolescent years in this Eden Prairie home. Ikram’s mother, Nima Ade, greeted us silently and left to find old photographs of Dolal. One of Nima’s sons—Ikram’s younger brothers—would take a break from playing to show us the photos his mother found. Ikram talked about Dolal quietly, so as to not upset her mother.

“He was just such a sweet boy. Definitely a different personality than the rest of the kids,” Ikram said. “Whenever he would greet someone he had a really warm smile, but he was very shy as well.”

Ikram called Dolal “miskeen,” an Arabic word that means “poor,” but is often used to describe someone who’s a bit naïve.

As a child, Ikram said, Dolal was quiet. He enjoyed playing video games in the basement or basketball down the street at Nesbitt Park with his friends. 

From left to right: Dolal’s brother-in-law, Dolal’s brother Mohamed Amin, Dolal Idd, Dolal’s father, and his younger brother. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

In the photos his mother shares, Dolal appears tall and thin—mostly limbs. In family pictures with his brothers, he’s the one whose ears stick out. 

With 11 kids, their home was a lively place, Ikram said. They started their lives in Minnesota in a townhouse in New Hope with other Somali neighbors. Some of them were distant relatives. The townhouses circled a playground. So after school, the kids would eat and then go play outside while their mom would watch from the front porch. In the evening, they would do their homework—often with Ikram’s help.

When Ikram’s brothers Mohamed Amin and Dalal got older, they traded the playground for basketball. As teenagers, they learned how to drive and would stay out late. Her parents were strict with the older boys, Ikram recalled. But they never really needed to be strict with Dolal, who seemed to prefer spending most of his time at home.

But as soon as Dolal turned 18, Ikram noticed a change: he went out with friends more and often came home late. She suspected he was using marijuana. 

“That’s when we started to worry,” Ikram said. “We started to see a different side of him.”

Ikram and her parents feared that Dolal was making the wrong kind of friends, and that in the future they might take advantage of his submissive nature. 

Trouble finds Dolal

After Dolal graduated from Eden Prairie High School in 2015, he took a trip to Ethiopia with Ikram and her children. His parents figured this was a good opportunity for Dolal to get back on track. His 14-year-old sister Hodan and 13-year-old brother came with them. 

Sometimes Dolal would babysit his younger siblings. Ikram joked that he would even change their diapers with no complaints.

They stayed in Jigjiga for the summer—a city in the Somali Region of Ethiopia—and visited Kebri Dehar, the city where their parents were born. Dolal and Hodan enjoyed the trip at first, but they quickly became bored and wanted to come home.

When Dolal returned, it was too late to start college for the fall semester. So he began taking classes at Normandale Community College during the spring semester in 2016. 

Ikram’s busy life with her children continued, too. She suspected Dolal was falling in with the wrong crowd, just as she had feared. But she heard less about Dolal’s comings and goings.

Sometimes Dolal would babysit his younger siblings. She joked that he would even change their diapers with no complaints—a rare willingness for boys his age.

But in the background, the family grew increasingly concerned about all the older boys. Before Dolal went to Ethiopia, his older brother Dalal assaulted a man at a fitness center in Eden Prairie. He was arrested and convicted of assault and has been incarcerated ever since. After the incident, Ikram and her parents worried even more about the other two, Mohamed Amin and Dolal.

Before long, trouble found Dolal. In the next few years, he accumulated a criminal record that included seven misdemeanors and a felony. In 2018 alone, he was jailed three times: for giving a false name to a police officer, a traffic incident, and a felony theft. 

Perhaps the most prominent incident in Dolal’s criminal history happened in July 2018. Dolal fired a 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson handgun in the basement of his parents’ home. When the police arrived to investigate what happened, they found a patio door that leads to the basement left open. 

According to Ikram, Dolal wasn’t even home at the time. While police reports suggest otherwise, Ikram said her family was confused about Dolal’s role in the incident. Bloomington police arrested Dolal in October. 

Dolal ultimately pled guilty to the gross misdemeanor and received a sentence of three years’ probation. He’d nearly completed that probation at the time of his death. 

Ikram said she believes Dolal started making bad choices because of the friends he was hanging out with. 

Dalal’s arrest in 2015 affected his younger brother. “They were really close and he hasn’t seen his brother for so long,” Ikram said of Dolal. (Dalal’s sentence for the assault ends in 2023.)

“Not that I’m saying he’s an angel, but sometimes being around the wrong group of people will get you in trouble,” Ikram said. Especially, since he was passive and wouldn’t speak his mind. 

Despite all her commitments raising her own sons, Ikram stepped up for Dolal as more than an older sister. She became the main point of contact for Dolal’s probation officer. On a few occasions when Dolal got into trouble with friends—he was suspected of driving a group of friends to a store that they then robbed—Ikram would be the one to talk to police officers. 

Because he was quiet, Dolal often hesitated to share his struggles, though Ikram constantly urged him to open up.

In 2019, Dolal’s family noticed his behavior was off. That year, he was jailed for theft, carrying a firearm without a permit, possession of marijuana, fleeing a police officer, and financial transaction card fraud. Dolal’s parents and Ikram knew he struggled with his mental health, but they suspected Dolal might have been using some sort of drugs beyond marijuana, too. 

Dolal agreed to live in a group home in Bloomington, called the Alliance Wellness Center, for three months.

The treatment seemed to stick, according to a friend of Dolal’s, Abdirahman Warsame. 

Abdirahman, 23, first met Dolal through mutual friends after Abdirahman moved to Eden Prairie in 2016. He admired Dolal’s ability to light up a room, and they instantly clicked.

“He’s kind of like an ambivert,” Abdirahman said—that is, alternating between shy and outgoing. “He keeps to himself, but when he’s around people that he knows, he’s a great person.”

In recent years, Abdirahman became cofounder of Generation Hope, a nonprofit made up of young people trying to overcome their addictions. The group addresses substance abuse in the East African community.

Abdirahman said that Dolal was planning on joining Generation Hope. The two often had deep conversations about their own personal struggles and how they could get better together.

A brother arrested for murder makes Dolal ask, ‘What will happen to me?’

Another crime shook the household in the weeks leading up to Dolal’s death. Police arrested Mohamed Amin on December 2, 2020, for a fatal shooting. He presently faces criminal charges for second-degree murder—charges that could lead to 40 years in prison, and an additional 15 years for firearms possession. 

Mohamed Amin is currently in custody at the Hennepin County Jail with his bail set at $1 million.

Dolal wasn’t able to see Mohamed Amin while he was in custody, but Ikram said he staunchly believed Amin acted in self-defense. He grew frustrated and suspected the criminal justice process was treating his family unfairly. Dolal wondered aloud: What will happen to me? Eventually, that feeling of frustration turned into fear that he was being followed. 

Ikram saw Dolal hustle to apply for several packaging jobs at once—though his criminal background seemed to get in the way. He saw a therapist every other week, too. 

But on other days, simply getting up in the morning was a struggle.

At home, Dolal’s family started to notice that he wasn’t eating much. He had trouble sleeping, and would hardly leave his room. 

After Mohamed Amin’s arrest, Dolal decided to move out. No one in his family knew where. Ikram urged him to seek help instead of leaving. But he said he couldn’t remain at home anymore. 

‘If he had one last dollar, he would make sure I have 50 cents’

At this point, the memories of Dolal shift from Ikram to a childhood friend named Jay. (Jay asked to be referred to by his middle name in order to speak about sensitive issues for himself, Dolal’s family, and the community.) 

After moving out of his family home, Dolal lived with Jay. From seventh grade on, the generosity flowed both ways, Jay said. “If he had one last dollar, he would make sure I have 50 cents.”

Dolal gave Jay an explanation for his move: He didn’t want to feel like he was a burden to his parents, who already had Dalal and Mohamed Amin to worry about. 

Like Ikram, Jay noticed that Dolal wasn’t in his right state of mind. 

When Dolal called home, he tried to give his family a sense that all was well. For Ilhan’s December 11 wedding, Dolal sent a long congratulatory text, regretting that he couldn’t muster up the courage to attend. 

After the small celebration, Ikram felt nostalgic. She sent Dolal a baby photo of him and he sent a laughing emoji back. 

Ikram saw through it though. In her last conversation with Dolal, she remembered telling him that if things didn’t change, he might end up dead.

“I didn’t say that because I’m a psychic or anything. But it’s just common sense,” Ikram said. “If you’re not with the best of people, you’re not mentally stable, you wouldn’t be able to rationalize if you’re in an unsafe situation.”

Dolal recognized Ikram’s concerns in a text and said he would meet up with her soon and discuss the possibility of coming home.

When I asked if Dolal ever implied that he was scared for his life, Ikram said, “Not to me.”

‘I think someone’s watching me’

To his family, Dolal continued to present one version of himself. But his friend Abdirahman saw a fuller picture.

Abdirahman called Dolal’s struggles complex. Dolal wanted to change his life—to find work, stay sober, keep up with his probation. “He was a good person in a bad situation,” Abdirahman said. “It’s hard finding resources, and there are a lot of disparities in resources in our community. That’s the messed-up part.” 

While he was on vacation, about a week after Ilhan’s wedding, Abdirahman spoke to Dolal over FaceTime. He noticed Dolal appeared paranoid about the police. Abdirahman cracked a joke, pretending he was a cop. But Dolal took it too seriously and got upset. 

When I spoke with Abdirahman mid-January, he still couldn’t figure out how to understand Dolal’s fears. Were the concerns he heard over the phone a symptom of Dolal’s mental illness? Or was it a rational fear that the police were out to get him? 

Dolal’s friend Jay noticed the same acute fear of the police. Dolal would shiver if they passed a cop car while hanging out together. He recalled something Dolal said: “They took my two older brothers. What if they take me, too?”

He remembered Dolal saying almost every day they were living together, “I think someone’s watching me.”

Dolal moved out of Jay’s place in mid-December, saying that he wanted to make a name for himself without relying on anyone. As far as Jay knew, Dolal now started bouncing between hotels and other friends’ homes, Jay said. 

A week before, Dolal stopped by Jay’s place to pick up a few of his belongings. He left some things behind—things to gather later. Jay recently returned the rest of Dolal’s belongings to his family.

“He was trying to get rid of his gun,” Jay said. “And they took his life.”

‘He was so scared out of his mind’

At this point, Dolal’s story changes hands again: Ikram, Jay, and Abdirahman switch from family and friends to observers, examining the same police account as the rest of the community. 

The police record, too, feels confusing and incomplete. But one thing is known: It turns out the police had, in fact, been investigating Dolal. 

Dolal Idd’s father, Bayle Adod Gelle, recounts a weapons raid at his home the night his son died. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

According to a search warrant filed in the Hennepin County District Court, the Minneapolis First Precinct Community Response Team used an informant to set up a sting operation and purchase a handgun from Dolal—“A person selling firearms illegally and prohibited from possessing firearms,” the warrant says. 

Minneapolis police learned Dolal had a MAC‐10 high-capacity pistol. The warrant also claimed Dolal held additional firearms at his residence in Eden Prairie. But Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies didn’t find anything in a raid of the home conducted the night Dolal died.

Dolal arrived at the Holiday gas station in south Minneapolis on December 30 with a female passenger. She was the owner of the white Chevrolet Cobalt that Dolal was driving. The squad cars moved in to arrest Dolal and a gunfight ensued. 

Police allege that Dolal attempted to flee and fired at the officers, who then returned fire. He was killed at the scene. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension then found a black and silver handgun between Dolal and the console of the car.

Police later released a single 27-second bodycam video of the incident. 

Abdirahman finds this account problematic. “In the video, his window wasn’t even down,” he said. “What sane person shoots without the window down, knowing there’s going to be blowback from the glass that’ll go in your eyes and your face. It doesn’t make any sense.” 

The anger dropped from his voice a bit as he tried to imagine ways the police could have handled the incident without killing Dolal. 

“When five cops come at you, who knows what state of mind he was already in,” Abdirahman said. “He was so scared out of his mind.”

In the end, the speculation didn’t matter, he said, because Dolal was already dead.

‘I lost hope a long time ago’ 

With so many questions left unanswered, Dolal’s family sought legal help. 

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) connected Dolal’s family to Lee A. Hutton, III, to coordinate messaging and look into the investigation of what happened to Dolal. At a press conference January 12, Hutton called for strict scrutiny of the investigation. Hutton, a trial attorney who works civil cases, also demanded that the City of Minneapolis release all police camera footage from that night.

“You have this situation with Mr. Idd, where he was shot several times with just five people in a public parking lot of Holiday, in a transaction that the police created,” Hutton explained to me in an interview at his downtown Minneapolis office. “Why did it have to lead to that type of result?”

When I asked if he’s hopeful that investigators will apply strict scrutiny, Hutton said, “Sitting here as an African American attorney in Minnesota that comes from the deep South, I lost hope a long time ago.”

There is some hope though, Hutton said, in the outrage surrounding Dolal’s death. On January 3, about a thousand people marched down Cedar Avenue to Lake Street, eventually turning back toward the Holiday gas station. Protesters chanted Dolal’s name while marching, some holding up signs with photos of Dolal. 

“The authorities see him differently, labeling him because of his Black skin, because of his brothers’ situation, because of his color, because of his physical appearance.”

Ikram Idd

Local community leaders, elected officials, friends, and family spoke to the crowd. Hutton sees that as an effort to “push the envelope” for justice.

After watching the one bodycam video the city has released, Hutton said the angle of the video doesn’t clearly show Dolal firing first. More footage could provide clearer answers. But Hutton added that a “quality investigation” would also report a ballistics test, which would reveal more information about the bullets shot, and the angle from which they were shot.

“We’re not making any accusations, we’re just looking for answers,” Hutton said. “That’s a reasonable position for any family to take. What is unreasonable is to not have had the answers yet.”

Only then might the family consider taking legal action, Hutton said. 

Protesters joined Dolal Idd’s family in a rally outside of the Minnesota governor’s residence in Saint Paul March 21. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Hutton has not yet received any details from the Minneapolis Police Department about the investigation. “I’ve received not one phone call,” Hutton said. “So I’ll be calling them soon.” 

In the meantime, Ikram and her family remain in the dark. 

Rumors reach the family—but no confirmation from the police

Ikram hasn’t been able to get herself to watch the bodycam footage of the incident. She said she can’t believe that Dolal shot first. It wasn’t something he would do. 

“He’d never harmed anyone,” Ikram said. “The authorities see him differently, labeling him because of his Black skin, because of his brothers’ situation, because of his color, because of his physical appearance.”

“I think about it a lot, and I feel like he might have known what was going to happen,” Ikram said. “He wasn’t scared of death.”

At first, Abdirahman had just heard rumors about a police shooting, and that Dolal might have been involved. He alerted Ilhan who relayed the rumors to Ikram. She frantically started texting Dolal. Ikram’s messages didn’t get delivered. 

“I started shaking and freaking out,” Ikram said. So she went to her parents’ house. She said she called the police, but they told her they didn’t have any information for the family.

Soon after, Ikram and her family started receiving calls, each an echo of the last. Friends and family started visiting their home to check in. At this point, no official notification had reached the family. 

They didn’t learn that the rumors were true until a dozen officers from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office raided the Idd residence later that night.

Abdirahman said he felt like he didn’t do enough for Dolal. So he set up a GoFundMe campaign for funeral costs and a lawyer. The appeal also funded a well built in Ethiopia in Dolal’s name.

‘You can’t create a kind heart’

Despite the pandemic, Ikram remembered a crowd attending Dolal’s funeral on the first day of the new year—as well as a few police officers lingering in the background. The parking lot at the Garden of Eden Islamic Cemetery in Burnsville was packed. A local mosque leader gave a speech honoring Dolal’s memory, while warning other teens in the community to stay safe—that if you simply look like Dolal, you may be targeted. 

The janazah prayer, customary in an Islamic funeral, would typically have been held at a mosque in Burnsville. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the crowd joined Ikram and her family in praying outside.

Dolal’s probation officer and therapist called Ikram to tell them they were heartbroken. Their memories of Dolal were gentler ones: “You can’t create a kind heart,” Dolal’s therapist told her. 

Visitors wandered in and out of her parents’ home for the next few days to offer their condolences. Eventually, it became so overwhelming for the family that they asked visitors to skip the home visit and stop by the Irshad Islamic Center, a mosque in Eden Prairie, to pray for Dolal and his family.

About 10 members of the Wooddale Church and Grace Church in Eden Prairie also visited the family and brought flowers and food. They stood outside to offer their condolences. 

During the days, Ikram noticed her mother, Nima, lingering in the living room by herself. So the church members connected her mother to a therapist. Ikram sits in on their sessions, which are usually held over the phone, to translate. 

When the therapist asks Ikram’s mom to close her eyes and imagine being a mom when Dolal was a kid, Ikram also closes her eyes and thinks about being his sister. 

After Dolal’s death, Ikram said, she noticed a disconnect at home between her parents and the younger siblings. The kids don’t want to talk as much. They often have dinner at different times instead of eating as a family. While coping with their own grief, Ikram said that her parents are trying to be more involved in the lives of the younger kids to make sure they don’t become detached. 

They keep tabs on where the children are going, what time they left, whom they’re with. If they notice something is off with one of the kids, Ikram’s mom will text Ikram and ask if she can get through to them. 

“In the back of her mind, she’s like, ‘If I don’t know where they are every time they leave, or if they’re not out of their room talking and interacting with us, they might become distant,” Ikram said. “Then we’ll never be able to know anything about them.”

On the day before the start of the Derek Chauvin trial, Jaida Grey Eagle, Sahan Journal’s staff photographer, ran into Dolal’s father, Bayle Adod Gelle, in front of U.S. Bank Stadium. He’d just given a speech as part of a march. Bayle was standing in a small group —none of the other reporters seemed to recognize him—and holding a poster-size photograph of Dolal wearing a tan suit. 

“We are fighting for justice,” Bayle said, tearing up as he spoke. “We are feeling good to see all these supporters, but the pain and loss will never go away. It will stay in my heart.” 

‘Mom, I love you. I will come back later’

Dolal’s mother saw her son for the last time three days before his death. He was supposed to visit and finally talk about moving back home. But he ended up stopping by for a short while. He left before they could have that conversation. He kissed her goodbye and said, “Mom, I love you. I will come back later.”

When I first visited Dolal’s home, Ikram asked her mother what she’ll remember most about her son. She said, in Somali, it’s difficult for her to remember.

So Ikram answered for her. The two remember Dolal as someone who never argued with his mom growing up. Even if Dolal planned to go somewhere at a time his mother wasn’t pleased with, or with people she didn’t care for, she would ask him, “Don’t go right now. Just stay.” 

And he would stick around, but just for a bit.

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.