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BHS Mourns Student Killed in Shootings

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday December 01, 2006

Yonas Mehari did not live to attend the second meeting of the Ethiopian Eritrean Students Union (EESU) he had helped established at Berkeley High, but his friends were there to carry on the dream he had left behind. 

“Exactly one week ago, Yonas and I were standing in this very spot, Room No. 309 in Building C,” said Raheil Drar, a sophomore and president of the EESU, Wednesday. “Yonas was disappointed about the turnout for the first meeting but I told him that there’s always next week. One day later he was shot.” 

Yonas, 17, his mother Regbe Baharengasi, 50 and sister Winta Mehari, 28, were killed by gunfire in their Keller Plaza Apartment complex in North Oakland on Thanksgiving Day.  

According to police reports, two of Winta Mehari’s brothers-in-law had shot the three family members in order to avenger the death of their brother Abraham Tewolde, who had been married to Ms. Mehari. 

Two of Mehari’s brothers were also wounded in the attack.  

One, a 22-year-old, was shot in the foot. The other, 20, is currently undergoing treatment at the hospital for breaking his back while jumping out of the third-floor-apartment to avoid getting shot. A Berkeley High parent at the meeting said that there was a possibility he could be paralyzed. 

The suspected gunman, identified as Asmeron Tewolde Gebreselassie, 43, and his brother, Tewodros Tewolde Gebreselassie, 39, who police reported helped plan the shooting, have been arrested and charged on three counts of suspicion of murder. Both brothers have admitted their roles in the shooting, according to police. 

Students at the meeting expressed disbelief at the incident and shared fond memories of Yonas. 

“When I first heard about this, my first reaction was to discontinue with the EESU,” Raheil said. “Yonas was the guiding light. He was the one who always got everything organized. It’s hard to imagine this without him. But I decided to take over as president from him and continue his work because this is what he would have wanted.” 

Students also talked about setting up a scholarship fund for Eritrean Ethiopian students at Berkeley High and in the East Bay. 

“Once a year the cities in the Bay Area pay you money if you turn in your guns to the government. If we can lobby the cities of Richmond, Oakland and Berkeley to do this for a few more days it would be really great,” said Abdul Shemse, a junior who came to the United States from Ethiopia in 1996. “The money could help students who have experienced violence in their lives and help them have a future.” Abdul will be co-presiding over the union with Raheil. 

Abdul told the Planet that one of the reasons Yonas had wanted to create the EESU was to try and bridge the gap between Eritreans and Ethiopians. 

“Our countries are in dispute over land,” he said. “But it’s our respective governments who are creating this conflict. Eritrean and Ethiopian students work together, eat together and play together under the same roof in Berkeley High. And the club is a way to continue to make that happen.” 

The EESU will be visiting Yonas’ family on Friday to hand over the donations and the condolence messages that hundreds of students had written for Yonas at school. 

“We have collected $3,200 so far,” Abdul said. “We would like Yonas’ family to use it toward medical expenses, which are over $50,000.” 

There are also plans to collect money for the rural regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea—something that Yonas wanted to do, and also set up a fund for Children Aid Ethiopia (CHAD-ET) which works with sexually exploited children in Addis, Ethiopia’s capital. 

Besides being active in student clubs, Yonas was also was a member of the BHS varsity soccer team and excelled in academics. 

According to his tutor, Carlos Bustamante, Yonas wanted to become a doctor. 

“He wanted to study medicine at UC Davis. He had a great math mind and helped to tutor kids,” Bustamante said. “I was aware of the drama going on with his sister and her in-laws, but he was making such great progress in school that it was hard to imagine there could be any violence lurking in the background at all.”  

Yonas’ soccer coach, Eugenio Janu Juarez, told the Planet during a memorial service at the Berkeley High football fields on Monday that the shooting did not come out of the blue. 

“There has been a long time festering between the families over Abraham Tewolde’s death,” he said. “Abraham’s family thinks that he was poisoned and this was their way of taking revenge. What happened is horrible.” 

Juarez dedicated the 2006-2007 soccer season to the memory of Yonas.