116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The family of Mmengwa Asukulu, 20, still have no answers about his death after his body was found earlier this month at a southwest Cedar Rapids construction site.
His mother, Mastajabu Shauri, worries for the safety of her other six children, left heartbroken at the loss of their oldest brother.
Asukulu’s body was found Nov. 1 in the area of 64th Avenue and Edgewood Road SW. The body was transported to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Ankeny for an autopsy. The family expects results to be available in December.
Police said they don’t believe there is a risk to the public because of the death.
The most difficult part about Asukulu’s death is that Shauri, his mother, doesn’t know how or why he died, Shauri said in Swahili translated by Susan Abel, intercultural family liaison with the Cedar Rapids Community School District.
The last day Shauri saw him alive was Oct. 30. She went to work about 1 p.m., and left Asukulu in the kitchen making rice for his younger siblings.
Shauri and Asukulu were both scheduled to work night shifts that Saturday — Shauri at Tyson Foods and Asukulu at Nordstrom Direct in Cedar Rapids. But when Shauri returned home the next morning, Oct. 31, she began to worry when Asukulu wasn’t there.
On Nov. 1, police notified the family that Asukulu’s body had been found, about 2 miles from his workplace.
“It’s very hard for me not knowing what exactly happened because when I left he was a completely healthy boy,” Shauri said. “He was completely healthy.”
Asukulu was buried Nov. 6 in a Baha’i ceremony, a religion that advocates universal peace and unity among races, nations and religions.
“He grew up under the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh” — the prophet founder of the Baháʼí faith — “not only striving to apply virtues and principles in his personal life, but having the vision of the oneness of mankind,” Shauri said.
Shauri’s faith “sustains” her, and gives her hope despite the uncertainty surrounding her son’s death, she said.
There were a “million people” from the Baháʼí and African community in Cedar Rapids supporting Shauri after Asukulu’s death, she said.
“I was not alone,” Shauri said.
Asukulu, a student in the English Language Learner program at Washington High School, relocated to Cedar Rapids with his family in March 2019.
Shauri left Congo for a refugee camp in Tanzania because of war and tribalism they faced in their home country. The family applied for asylum to the United States in 2007, waiting 12 years in the refugee camp.
In Africa, Asukulu worked diligently as a student and loved to play soccer, but life was hard, Shauri said.
Shauri believed all seven of her children — Mmengwa Asukulu, Georgetta Asukulu, 18, Esperance Asukulu, 16, Faizi Asukulu, 14, Emerance Auskulu, 11, Sada Husen, 5, and Joari Filemo, 3 — would have more opportunity to make a living in the United States.
She hopes one day her children go back to Congo and help their community, a dream Asukulu was never able to complete.
Almost a month after Asukulu’s body was found, Shauri tries not to be alone in the house, which feels a little more empty without her oldest son. Asukulu adored his siblings, and they adored him. When he came home from school or work, they would crowd around him and ask him to play.
Although he “wouldn’t necessarily wash the dishes,” Shauri said with a chuckle, he would always cook for his youngest siblings when they were hungry.
Asukulu “was a kid who loved life and loved people,” Shauri said.
“We are all going to die someday,” Shauri said. “I’m hopeful my other children can continue the work Mmengwa did and was planning to do. I’m hopeful still.”
The family is raising donations on social media at gofund.me/cae78681.
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