Suliman Abdul-Mutakallim was shot in the back of his head, as he walked home, carrying food for himself and his wife.
Authorities say he was an innocent and unsuspecting victim.
After two teenagers pleaded guilty this month at separate court hearings and were sentenced to prison terms, Abdul-Mutakallim’s mother, Rukiye, offered to hug them.
Javon Coulter said she could.
Rukiye wants to visit them in prison regularly and help them become better people.
She thinks about it this way: They have been infected by a disease, but are young. They can be cured.
Vengeance, she said, solves nothing. It won’t bring back her son.
It happened the night of June 28, 2015, in South Cumminsville, under a highway overpass. Suliman was walking home from a White Castle, carrying a bag of food.
Police say there were three robbers. One of them, Javon, who was 14, was seen in a surveillance video pulling money from the front pocket of his pants right after the shooting.
The 39-year-old Navy veteran, known by many as “Sam,” was still alive, face-down on the pavement, bleeding. His wallet likely contained less than $60.
The video showed Javon hand money to the other two. One was 17-year-old Valentino Pettis. Police believe the third person was a man in his 20s, but he was never charged.
Javon, Valentino and the third person then walked down the street, taking the food with them.
Rukiye, a native of North Carolina and a devout Muslim who converted in her late-teens, has lived with that image of her dying son for more than two years. Her grief is constant.
In an interview at her College Hill home, Rukiye recalled the moment Suliman, the youngest of her three biological children, died at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. She and other family members were at his bedside. She was holding his hand.
Her religion teaches that there is no goodbye. So Rukiye whispered to her son, “Until I see you again.”
Then she kissed him.
At a court hearing more than two years later, on Nov. 2, Rukiye – after asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan for permission – did something courtroom veterans said they’d never seen.
She walked up to Javon, who’d just admitted involvement in her son’s death, and hugged him. She also embraced Javon’s mother.
She wanted them to know she could see beyond the act that took her son’s life.
And she pledged to do everything possible to make Javon a better man.
“His death was already ordained,” she told him. “Maybe the purpose is to save your life.”
Rukiye, who is 66, said her son’s killers are children who have mothers, like herself.
“Those young men – although they took my son’s life in the manner they did – we need to fight for them. Because they are going to come back out. And they will be older. But if they have no light, then this same disease is going to repeat itself and they are going to take another person’s child’s life and eventually their own,” Rukiye said. “And every mother’s heart must feel this.”
“We have to fight for them to see that there is a better life,” she said, “and then they have to fight to get to where that better life is.”
Javon’s mother, Malyyka Bonner, understands that he needs to be punished for what happened.
“A wrong’s been done,” she said.
Bonner now lives in an apartment with two of her other children. Her building in Mount Airy, part of a large complex, is less than two miles from Rukiye’s home.
It’s still not clear who fired the gun that night. It was never found. The shooting of Suliman is not seen on the surveillance video.
Valentino, who is also known as “Tino,” blamed Javon. A witness in juvenile court said that after the shooting, Valentino was angry with Javon because he shot “an innocent man.”
Javon told police the third, unnamed person fired the gun.
“I heard Tino did it. I heard Javon did it. I heard a third person did it,” Cincinnati police Detective Eric Karaguleff testified at a juvenile court hearing. “I don’t care – doesn’t matter – they all benefited.”
Bonner said she doesn’t know what happened. Javon won’t talk about it, she said.
“I don’t think he can fully grasp … the whole reality of what really happened,” she said.
The case against Javon and Valentino, now 19, began in juvenile court, but both eventually were transferred to adult court on murder charges. Both pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Javon also pleaded guilty to robbery.
Bonner doesn’t want the system to throw her son away. She fears that when he is released from prison – without sufficient education, job training and treatment – he will still be a boy.
“That’s what they gonna send me home with,” she said – a 14-year-old in the body of a man in his 30s.
Javon shouldn’t have been out of the house the night of the shooting, a Sunday.
At the time, Bonner, Javon, his brother and sister, were living in her mother’s house in Millvale. Bonner and the children shared two rooms on the first floor. Her mother also lived in the house, along with Bonner’s sister, uncle and Valentino, who is her cousin.
Bonner, 32, is a single mother. She was 15 when she became pregnant with Javon. Her source of income is Social Security disability. Her two youngest children are in their father’s custody.
In 2005, Javon was 4 years old when his father, Kevin Berry, was shot and killed outside an apartment in Winton Terrace. Court documents say Berry, 24, was targeted because he was selling marijuana in territory others had claimed as their own.
Soon after the shooting, Bonner said she moved to Mississippi to live with her father, “to get a new outlook on life and start over.”
She and the children lived in Mississippi for about six years. She said she got married and divorced. Her father died of lung cancer.
Bonner and her children moved back to Cincinnati in 2013. They moved in with her mother, who was battling cancer.
Javon had been attending Aiken High School’s New Tech program. At 14, he was in the seventh grade. Bonner said he has always been in special education classes and still struggles to read and write.
Javon, who was about 6-foot-3 at the time of the shooting and is now an inch taller, has shown potential as an athlete. He played on Aiken’s junior varsity football team. He also played basketball for the Millvale Community Center.
Bonner said Javon always has been big for his age. He was born prematurely but weighed more than 8 pounds. She described him as a quiet boy who kept to himself and loved playing video games.
The mental health issues began when they moved back to Cincinnati, she said. He often wore headphones, she said, to block out voices he alone heard.
He was a danger only to himself, she said. He once held a knife to his own throat and threatened to kill himself.
Javon also learned to call 911 when he was mentally unstable, she said. He’d say he was going to kill himself, police would pick him up and take him to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital psychiatric unit. That happened, she said, four or five times.
She told The Enquirer he spent several months in the psychiatric unit at various times. That could not be confirmed.
“It was a shock to me that he was even reaching out for help, and I didn’t understand it,” Bonner said. “I didn’t know how to take, ‘I’m hearing voices.’”
She said he was taking medication.
There also was Valentino’s influence. Bonner said he began living in the home where she lived, after his own mother, her aunt, put him out.
“He didn’t want to go to school,” she said. “He just wanted to hang in the street and do whatever.”
That included, she said, sneaking Javon out of the house at night.
On most nights, she said she would go out and look for them. The night of the shooting was different.
“That night, I didn’t,” she said. She was tired of chasing after them.
“I told my sister: ‘Whatever lesson they gonna learn, they’re gonna have learn it tonight, because I’m not gonna get ‘em.’”
Suliman Abdul-Mutakallim spent the day of the shooting at home with his wife, relaxing and watching movies, according to Rukiye.
He grew up in California, got his GED in Michigan and enlisted in the Navy in May 2001, Rukiye said, “to help him find a direction.”
His older brother is a lieutenant commander in the Navy.
After serving three years during the Iraq War, he went from place to place before moving to Ohio.
Over several years, Suliman lived with his mother and then his sister, an Information Technology specialist, and eventually got married in 2010. His wife declined to talk to The Enquirer.
Suliman and his wife lived in apartments in the West End and Over-the-Rhine before moving to the apartment in South Cumminsville. They were estranged at times, including as recently as 2014, according to court documents.
In a 2013 Facebook post, Suliman wrote about how a neighbor was fatally shot in the head, outside an apartment he and his wife lived in at the time. The shooting happened, he wrote, early on a Sunday morning in June 2013.
Suliman, who was Christian, believed he had somehow failed his neighbor by not offering his own testimony and witness to him. He wrote that the man: “never gave his heart over to the Lord. I never gave him the chance. (He) was only 32, and I thought he’d have plenty of time.”
“To all my friends and family, we don’t know when our time on earth is going to be done, so if you haven’t made your heart right with God, please don’t delay,” Suliman said in the post.
Rukiye said her son’s goal was eventually to buy a house and show his wife a better way of life. He’d worked a series of jobs and at the time he was shot worked as a machinist at Meyer Tool in Camp Washington.
Rukiye said it’s likely Suliman didn’t see who shot him. Had they asked for his wallet and cellphone, he would have given it to them, she said.
As part of a plea deal, which Rukiye supported, Javon was sentenced to 20 years. He gets credit for more than two years he’s already spent in a youth facility and will be 34 when he’s released from prison. Valentino received a 14-year sentence.
Questions remain about Javon’s mental health. Bonner said he has been diagnosed with depression and psychosis, and has been hearing voices for the last few years. His case was delayed repeatedly because of mental competency issues. Bonner said she hopes Javon can get treatment in prison.
“Just give him help,” she said. “That’s the only thing I’m looking for out of the whole ordeal.”
Rukiye has focused on helping Javon and Valentino. She said they “weren’t given a fair chance at life.”
Rukiye is retired. She worked in the banking industry for many years. Since 2014, she has been a disaster response team volunteer with Islamic Relief. Most recently, she went to Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
She thinks about both teens, “knowing that they came from a person who is a mother like myself.”
Valentino refused Rukiye’s offer of a hug in court, and she worries that he won’t be willing to accept her help. She worries that he will choose a life on the streets and when released will go back to that world.
With permission from their mothers, she wants to become an advocate for them, visit them regularly while they are in prison, help them get an education and “try to find a solution that will put a light in these young men’s lives for their future.”
She wants to show them that although they have forever harmed her family that she forgives them.
And to make sure that when they’re released they have an opportunity to build a life and be successful.
“Get them to see that there is a better side of life than what they have been seeing up until now,” she said. “To learn how to say no to that which you already know is wrong.”