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Covering a 10-year-old Buffalo child's beating death, and taking it personally

Journalists are used to covering violence, tragedy and death.  But sometimes, a crime hits especially close to home and we feel personally affected.

The story of Abdi Mohamud -- the 10-year-old East Side boy who was beaten to death in the basement of his Guilford Street home -- has been especially sobering for reporters, editors and photographers in The Buffalo News newsroom.

The boy's stepfather  -- Ali Mohamed Mohamud, who has confessed to police that he beat the boy to death -- worked here at The News as a security guard.
 
Although he was employed not by The News but by an outside security firm, he was in our building on a regular basis.   I knew him enough to say hello and use his first name; others had had long conversations with him; he walked women editors out to their cars after they finished their night shifts.
 
The crime itself is almost beyond human comprehension.  Police say that the 40-year-old stepfather used duct tape to trap the fifth-grader in a chair, that he stuffed a sock in his mouth, and pulverized his skull with an 18-inch hardwood baker's rolling pin.  Then he threw a blanket over the boy's body and fled.

Veteran crime reporter Lou Michel has led the reporting.  Here is his most current story.  Others have pitched in, and News columnist Donn Esmonde has a particularly strong column today, based on conversations with the boy's friends and neighbors.  They have relied on what we call "shoe-leather reporting" -- going out to the neighborhood to find those who knew the family and the situation.  As a result, their stories have delved beneath the surface and provided detail and emotion beyond the mere facts from police.

Michel's story today reports that the police came to the Guilford Street home 16 times since the family moved there in 2009.  Esmonde reports that many people knew what was going on.    Our coverage also includes the state's child abuse hotline information.

Some of us are wondering about a system that lets this happen, and what can be done about it.  We're planning to keep digging.  At the very least, we owe that much to Abdi Mohamud and other children like him for whom home is a terribly dangerous and frightening place.

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