The woman wearing the hijab, driving out of the bomb-targeted Garden Spot apartments Saturday morning, rolled down her van window to say that she and her children had all slept in one bed the night before.
“We are scared,” she said.
Abdulkadir Mohamed, a Somali elder living in the complex, said 150 people would have been killed or wounded if a thwarted bombing attack on his home had succeeded.
“Who are these people?” he asked. “Who are they fighting?”
About 50 of the people living in Garden Spot are children, his neighbor and fellow Somali Mahad Jama said.
In Garden City today, people are slowly adjusting to the idea that three men have been charged with planning to blow up truck bombs around their homes, which includes one apartment that serves as a mosque.
White people of European descent in Garden City are not just horrified; they’re embarrassed. “Lovely people, the Somalis and all the other people who live among us,” said Benjamin Anderson, the CEO of the Kearny County Hospital in nearby Lakin.
“These people who planned this, I am thinking, are out-of-towners … and not real bright,” said John Doll, a former Garden City mayor and candidate for the Kansas Senate in the November election. “This is terrible, because these people they targeted are great people; they work hard, pay taxes, obey the laws. Why would anyone want to hurt them?”
Terror in the heartland
Federal prosecutors said on Friday that three men – Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Eugene Stein – planned to detonate truck bombs around the small complex. Allen, 49, and Wright, 49, are both from Liberal, while Stein, 47, is from Wright, Kan., according to a law enforcement release.
They also said the men talked about attacking some of the many area churches that have helped settle refugees and helped them get jobs at Tyson Foods, the meat packing company with a big industry here.
Doll said he was told he was one of the targets discussed.
“I am so disappointed,” Doll said. “I love the diversity of this town and how accepting this town is. My thinking: These were misguided people planning the attack – a couple of idiots.”
Father Reginald Urban, pastor at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Garden City, said the Mass he serves every Sunday is a lesson in how accepting Garden City people are of other cultures.
“The beautiful clothes people wear, the robes, and you hear the different languages,” Urban said. “This will bring fear into the homes of many people. But it won’t change how accepting this community is of people from all languages, theologies and philosophies.”
Debra Bolton has studied the immigrant populations for years, currently for Kansas State University.
Their status: “refugees,” she said. Of the 40,000 people in Finney County, 46 percent are of white European descent; many people from many lands make up the other 54 percent; there are about 500 Somalians, she said.
“This is devastating to the community,” said Bolton, an education specialist who studies the populations here and how they integrate. “They integrate much better here than in other places, because the locals welcome them.”
There are 35 languages and dialects besides English spoken in the schools in Garden City, she said. The Africans who came here to live and work were born in 10 different countries, including Somalia. Some are Muslim, Bolton said. Some are Christian.
“So many of them say it’s a struggle to be here but worth it from not having the violence they lived with day to day. They came here for the peace and quiet and love it, and knowing that this violence could have happened to them is devastating.”
‘You are safe in Garden City’
Hundreds of Somalians, Malaysians, Burmese and others gathered around FBI agents and law enforcement officers in a parking lot across the street from the threatened mosque for a briefing early Saturday afternoon.
“The only answer I can give you about why this happened is that they wanted to attack your religious beliefs,” Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz told them. “But you need to know that whether you are an immigrant or not, you are all Garden Citians.
“Some of you have said you can’t go to your mosque to pray or that you can’t go to your homes because you are afraid,” Utz said. “But we and the sheriff and the FBI are here to say that you are safe in Garden City and safe in the United States of America.”
Dave Varger, an assistant special agent in charge for the FBI, said the FBI had monitored the three men for months. “They were never, ever going to be able to carry out this attack,” he told the crowd.
Dalma Ali Warsame, a 34-year-old Somalian, showed up to listen to the FBI and police briefing because he and his wife are now scared, a condition they’d never before found themselves in since coming to America.
Somalia had no government “and no safety,” he said, which was why he came to the U.S. Now he has two daughters, ages 1 and 3, and a wife who is frightened, as is he.
He likes it here, though. “And I want to stay a long time.”
At least one of the three men arrested was seen walking around the Garden Spot apartments as late as last week, Abdulkadir Mohamed said.
“People didn’t pay attention then, but when they saw the news, several people pointed and said, ‘I saw that one,’ ” Mohamed said.
Bolton, who was with Mohamed when he said this, asked how he thinks the men learned there was a small mosque in this apartment complex.
“Google,” Mohamed said with a grin. “All you have to do is Google, and you find this mosque and the Burmese mosque across the street.
“Unbelievable,” he added.
“We have always been welcomed here,” said Somalian Mahad Jama, who, like almost everyone else here, works at Tyson. “I see white people at Tyson, at the gas station, everywhere, and everyone is my friend. I don’t know what’s going on here.”
The immigrants are terrified, including the children.
“They were old people coming here to do a bomb,” said Mohamad Saufar, a 13-year-old Malaysian Muslim who lives across the street in the Apple Garden apartments. “My mom won’t let me play outside now.”
“Now they are in jail,” said his 9-year-old sister, Nurjannah Ezaharhussain. “And they won’t get out until, like, forever.”