Nashville’s Ethiopian community mourns death of restaurant owner

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Friends and employees who knew Ibex Ethiopian Bar & Restaurant owner Gitem Demissie said he was always thinking of others — from encouraging children to do their best or helping people down on their luck.

That’s why on Monday, members of Nashville’s Ethiopian community remained puzzled as to why anyone would want to kill him.

In what police are calling a targeted killing, Demissie, 41, was fatally shot by a masked suspect as he was preparing to close his Murfreesboro Pike restaurant about midnight Saturday, police said. A witness said the gunman, clad in a long-sleeved black shirt and black jeans, approached Demissie inside the restaurant and shot him multiple times. The shooter then fled. Demissie died shortly after, police said.

“How could anybody do that to him?” asked Eyob Safi, a long-time friend of Demissie. “He was a good man, very encouraging, especially to young children. He would tell them to work hard and that it was never too late in life to start over. He would often would let customers who didn’t have any money eat, and pay when they were able.”

Safi, who lives in Murfreesboro, said in a telephone interview that he was with Demissie two hours before the shooting. Safi said his friend had no known enemies.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Safi, who was one of about 100 people who gathered outside Demissie’s restaurant Sunday night for a candlelight vigil in his memory. “He was in good spirits. He was happy, talking to his customers at the bar. It was just another normal day.”

On Monday, Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said detectives in the case were still searching for a motive in the killing.

“We’re continuing to investigate his background to determine why someone wanted him dead,” Aaron said, noting the shooter did not concern himself with the witness before leaving the restaurant.

Investigators have been looking into whether Demissie had been in recent disputes. The witness described the shooter as man standing about 5-foot-7 inches with light skin and a thin build — in addition to the long-sleeved black shirt and black jeans that police say he was wearing.

Ted Tashu, public relations officer for the Ethiopian Community Association in Nashville, said that, in addition to his restaurant, Demissie also owned Ibex Minimart on Bell Road.

Although he lived alone, he was engaged to a woman in Ethiopia.

His plan, Tashu said, was to visit Ethiopia soon, get married and bring his wife to Tennessee.

“This is an untimely death for a hardworking immigrant who considers Nashville home,” Tashu said. “He was such a great, kind, hardworking guy. He invested his money and his energy to build two businesses here in Nashville. … The way he died is not only a sad story for the community but it is a mystery.”

Tashu added, “We as Americans who chose Nashville as our home would like to get justice for one of ours.”

 

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