FARGO – Two of the three Somali-American women threatened with murder two days ago by a white woman outside a local Walmart, met their attacker Thursday afternoon at the Fargo Police Department, and left in friendship.
“We hugged her, we cried,” Sarah Hassan, one of the victims, said. “I love her.”
On Tuesday evening Amber Elizabeth Hensley was filmed through 15-second WeChat video clips threatening the Hassan sisters and Rowda Soyan around 5:30 p.m.
Laleyla admittedly parked to close to Hensley’s blue Honda, and the incident led to Hensley threatening all three Muslim women, wearing hijabs, with death.
On Thursday, however, tempers had cooled after a firestorm of commentary on social media.
“We brought people together and they met each other,” Fargo Police Cultural Liaison Officer Vince Kempf said after the 90-minute meeting. “Relationship building, there was forgiveness and quite possible friendship at the end of the meeting.”
Both Sarah and her sister, Laleyla, have been in Fargo nearly three years, and speak near-perfect English. They wear hijabs, and are Somalis originally. Both said Hensley’s apology was genuine, and that they have been invited to her house for Christmas.
“It feels good, to be honest,” Laleyla said after the meeting.
“She’s a nice person,” Sarah said. “She had the idea that all Muslims are bad. We just talked about peace.”
“I think things went too far,” Laleyla said. After the meeting, both Fargo women wanted to go immediately to Horab & Wentz, CPA, Hensley’s former place of work, to ask the owners to give Hensley’s job back. Hensley was fired Wednesday, one day after the hate crime was committed.
Horab & Wentz owner and CPA, Scott Wentz, said his accounting firm received hundreds of emails and calls from around the world, including some calls wanting to hire Hensley.
Charges could have been filed against Hensley, Kempf said. With the city dealing with five hate crimes halfway through 2017, mediation and forgiveness was the better route.
“Unfortunately, incidents like what happened this week and the social media commentary following it can cause further division and set us back from progress we are trying to make as a community,” Fargo Police Chief David Todd said.“I want to put before you an example of what can be accomplished even though mistakes were made and unfortunate words were said. Amber Hensley, Sarah Hassan and Leyla [Laleyla] Hassan have all expressed regret regarding their interaction and language with each other.”
The women met, talked through the incident, and regrets were voiced from all sides. Forgiveness followed, Todd said.
Hukun Abdullahi, founder of Afro American Development Association, spent much of the afternoon assisting the peace process. He spoke with Hensley’s former bosses and asked for her job back as well. So far, the owners have declined, Abdullahi said.
“Everybody can make a mistake,” Abdullahi said. “I am very happy she came out and apologized for what she did to the victims. As a community, anything can happen, but we can get together to bring a better solution.”
While Abdullahi was busy helping the Hassan sisters, he received to hateful messages.
“Come to this country, follow our values,” a man named Adam White said in a message to Abdhullahi. “Or you can go back to where you come from.”
Another message written by a man named Lamar Avery, who used a picture of Adolf Hitler as his avatar, told Abdullahi a similar message. “Maybe you should go back to the country where you came from bitch, Americans don’t cater to Muslim terrorist scum.”
“We have some ugliness in our community that needs to be addressed and worked on,” Todd said. “Social media shows us that, however, perhaps we can all take a lesson from what was an ugly unfortunate interaction and how even despite words being said that cannot be taken back, forgiveness and understanding can still be achieved.”
Fargo City Commissioner John Strand, who has put the issue of hate crimes on the next city council agenda, was elated by the news both sides had reconciled.
“If everybody on all fronts can strive to get as much as possible to the higher ground and to see things in the bigger picture and go forward in a way where we undoubtedly become a better community because of it, that’s what we’re aiming for,” Strand said.
“These little steps really add up, and it’s up to all of us which steps we take and I hope we make the best choices possible.”