Amir Hassan, a 9-year-old Emerson elementary school student is dead, his mother has been hospitalized, and detectives are focusing their investigations on her, police said.
The tragedy sent shockwaves through the surrounding community. His death was also a shock to students at Emerson, where he was well known to many of the students, Principal Susan Hodge said in a letter provided to parents.
Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said the San Jose police called Berkeley officers at 9:18 a.m. Wednesday after their department had been contacted by a family friend who reported that the mother had phoned to say that her son was dead and she had been injured.
On arriving at the wood-shingled house at 3011 Shattuck Ave., three doors south of Ashby Avenue, officers found the son dead and the mother suffering from possibly self-inflicted injuries to her arms and neck.
Berkeley Fire Department paramedics arrived moments later, and after treating the mother’s injuries, one of the firefighters carried her in his arms, wrapped in a chenille bedspread, to their waiting ambulance.
She was taken to Highland Hospital, where she was questioned by Berkeley homicide detectives, Sgt. Kusmiss said.
The Alameda County Coroner’s office completed its autopsy of the youth Thursday morning, but police were withholding the results.
“Detectives have just left to re-interview the mother based on information they have gathered through their investigative efforts and items of evidentiary value that were seized during the search warrant,” said Sgt. Kusmiss in a statement issued early Thursday evening.
“Detectives have not ruled her out as a suspect in her son's death. They are focusing their investigative energy on her,” Kusmiss said.
“He was a wonderful little boy,” said a neighbor, whose own children attended classes with the youth. “But we knew there was tension in the home.”
“He was so sweet,” said another neighbor, Malong Pendar, the owner of Taste of Africa restaurant next door. “He used to come in and say, ‘Can I wash off your tables and do some dishes?’” said Pendar. “I’d say no, and he’d say, ‘Please?’ So I’d let him do something and then give him a meal. He was just so willing to help people. It hurts me what’s happened, because he was so sweet. And his mom was too.”
A neighborhood merchant who used to sell the youth chips and sodas used the same adjective, sweet, to describe the youth.
Another neighbor said the apartment had been visited on several occasions by county social services workers.
Ken, who works at a barbershop down the street, said police had visited the mother in recent weeks. “I heard she was suicidal. But every time I’ve seen the boy, he was smiling. But you could see he was going through some issues at home.”
Sgt. Kusmiss said the youth was well known to neighbors, who kept an eye out for him.
The large wood-framed home where mother and son lived has been divided into apartments, and moments after police and paramedics arrived Wednesday morning, another tenant was on the phone outside, telling a friend that police had been by the home in recent weeks.
If the event turns out to be, as police suspect, a murder and suicide attempt, it follows on another, the June 18 murder death by gunshot of a North Berkeley family.
Kevin Morrissey fatally shot his spouse, 40-year-old Albany physician Mamiko Kawai, and daughters, Nikki and Kim, ages 8 and 6, before turning the gun on himself.
He had told friends that he was worried over losses from his spouse’s medical practice, which he managed.
Because that crime happened outside city limits, their deaths didn’t add to the city’s murder toll, which will stand at five if Wednesday’s death is ruled a homicide by the Alameda County Coroner’s office.
The apartment building is called Casa Buenos Amigos, and is a four-unit rental cooperative acquired by the non-profit Northern California Land Trust five years ago.
The trust, which provides affordable housing for rental and for sale, currently owns 21 rental units in Berkeley, which are reserved for households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income.