Girum Mekonnen, 19, was killed when members of warring gangs began fighting behind Zillmere PCYC in Brisbane’s north on Sunday
The grieving family of a teenager stabbed to death in a brawl between rival African groups insist he hated violence and wasn’t part of a gang.
Girum Mekonnen, 19, was killed when members of warring gangs began fighting behind Zillmere PCYC in Brisbane’s north on Sunday evening.
Up to 10 more people were carted off to hospital after the fight – including two who were fighting for life.
Friends have explained Mekonnen’s was simply ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ when he died.
Relatives said his group, which called themselves ’34’ in homage to Zillmere’s 4034 postcode, were just a bunch of friends who had barbecues while their kids played at local parks.
Loved ones believe Mekonnen’s death was ‘collateral damage’ in a feud between other people, the Courier Mail reports.
‘Those boys are always around my kids – so they’re not a gang. Girum liked their vibe and started hanging out with them recently and got caught up in this stuff,’ a friend said.
‘He’s a soft-hearted person that doesn’t like fighting, he doesn’t like when people are arguing.’
Another loved one said Mekonnen and his friends ‘were just hanging out’ on Sunday prior to the tragedy.
‘They were hungover, joking and laughing about it and they were ambushed by, who knows, 20 more people, these guys with weapons, while they were sitting enjoying their time before they go home and start work on Monday,’ he said.
Friends have explained Mekonnen’s was simply ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ at the time of his death
A red car believed to be connected to the brawl was towed away from the crime scene about 1pm on Monday
Bloodied bandages were left at the scene where a man died on Sunday night
Meanwhile, residents said they are too too afraid to speak out about the escalating crime in their community.
Between June and September 2020, some 220 offences were reported in Zillmere.
But locals say youths ‘run riot’ through the once quiet neighbourhood without any fear of authorities.
‘They know cops can’t touch them because they’re underage,’ a grandmother-of-one who was too afraid to be named told Daily Mail Australia.
She said Sudanese youths had repeatedly ‘intimidated her’ and demanded she hand over cash, and that they had no qualms about destroying public property.
‘I watched one young man smash up a phone box because I wouldn’t give him any money,’ she said.
The groups frequent the public areas near the PCYC, which is a crime scene after Sunday night’s fatal stabbing.
But the woman said they often loitered around the train station and nearby shopping precincts, too.
Loved ones believe Mekonnen’s death was collateral damage in someone else’s feud
This map shows the number of offences committed throughout Zillmere from June 2020 to September 2020
‘I’d never get off the train at Zillmere, I’d always go one station along. It’s just too dangerous,’ she admitted.
‘I tell my daughter the same thing. And its the same with the IGA around the corner from the station. I won’t do my groceries after 6pm, its just not worth the risk.
‘They’re usually there, and they’ll intimidate you.’
But Paul Christodoulou, the owner of Hair By Paul barber shop two doors down from Zillmere station, said the young men in the neighbourhood are of little concern to him.
‘I’ve been here 16 years, and I’ve never seen anything too bad,’ he said before admitting that it could get a little ‘rough’ at the station occasionally.
Police from Brisbane city patrolled the scene of the crime, near PCYC Zillmere, on Monday
A number of people sustained wounds during the attack. Pictured: Family members of victims at the hospital
Officers taped off part of the area on Sunday afternoon before changing the perimetres once the car had been towed away
‘But I think that’s been brought here, people moving from wherever they have come from. I’ve been here a long time now, and its never been that bad.’
Mr Christodoulou said he felt for the families of the young people involved in last night’s clash.
Three friends of the victims told Daily Mail Australia the matter would be ‘settled privately’ and that those involved in the melee wouldn’t want the public to be involved.
‘Good luck to anyone who tells you anything,’ one of the men said, before another added ‘they don’t use social media’.
‘Their families won’t even speak to us yet, let alone the media.’
The trio wouldn’t comment on allegations those involved had gang affiliations.
A woman who claims to have ‘watched her friend bleed out’ insisted they were ambushed and are not part of a ‘gang’ but a ‘family’.
‘We are not a gang, we are a family. The people that attacked my friends were a gang,’ she told The Courier Mail.
’34 was never a gang, it was a family and the media and people twisted it to the point y’all made them a target by a real p***y bunch of n****s that ambushed my brothers and girls.
Business owners at a shopping strip across the road from the melee said youths often came to the area to play basketball on the public court
A police officer gathers crime scene tape near a small memorial where flowers were laid at the site of a fatal stabbing on Sunday
Houses and businesses throughout Zillmere have been boarded up recently. Pictured: A home near the crime scene
‘Then to have the police treat us with no respect and withhold where they took the injured and treat the family of the deceased family like they are crazy and wanting to put the mother in the mental hospital because she was breaking down about her son … f**ked system.’
But the grandmother-of-one who lived just down the road said she had no doubt those involved in the fray were the troublemakers she often tries to steer clear of.
‘Oh, you could pick them on the street. I could point most of them out. I watch the area a lot and you do see a lot out here,’ she said.
About 16 per cent of homes in the neighbourhood are public housing, compared to about four per cent in wider Brisbane.
The average income is about $748, again lower than the Brisbane average of $939, while just three per cent of people earn above $2,000 per week.
A social worker at the local youth community group told Daily Mail Australia there was a brawl near the PCYC just three weeks ago which involved local youths.
Police have indicated they believe Sunday night’s stabbing was a retaliation attack over a previous incident.
Last Tuesday night, a 21-year-old man was bashed outside of Redbank Plains Woolworths in a ‘vicious’ attack in which 12 men of African descent beat him with baseball bats and stomped on his head.
‘I’d never call the police on any of them, though. Never. It wouldn’t be worth it. One of them could kill someone right in front of me and I still wouldn’t ring the police. It’s best not to get involved.’
A lone bunch of flowers were left at the crime scene on Monday afternoon
Some family members who went to visit their injured loved ones in hospital were aggressive. Pictured: Friends and family members outside the hospital
Out the front of Zillmere PCYC was declared a crime scene on Sunday night after the fatal brawl
This map shows the type of offences committed throughout Zillmere from June 2020 to September 2020
The woman said her partner often leaves for work at 4am and groups of young people – many who appear underage – are wandering the streets or hooning at the same time.
‘I just don’t know why people are walking the streets at that time… Why aren’t their parents doing anything?’
‘It’s very, very sad,’ she said. ‘I first lived here about 20 years ago, moved away and came back two years ago. It’s a very different neighbourhood now.’
The woman suspected an uptick in housing commission and subsidised private housing had led to a spike in crime within the community.
A gymgoer at PCYC told Daily Mail Australia he ‘wasn’t shocked’ to hear of the brutality.
Bloodied bandages were left at the scene of the fatal stabbing on Monday afternoon
Police officers had to instruct gymgoers to enter the PCYC from a separate entrance after the stabbing
A red car believed to be connected to the crime was towed from the scene
‘Of course I’m not shocked. This is Zillmere, mate,’ he said.
‘They could just be a bunch of kids though, I wouldn’t say they’re definitely part of gangs. But I don’t know them at all, all I know is this sh*t just happens.’
He said behind the PCYC at the basketball courts and soccer fields seemed to be the local ‘hang out destination’ among young people within the community.
The owner of nearby Baba Juice agreed, saying he knows ‘a lot of young people in that community go across there to play lots of basketball’.
He, too, insisted he had never seen any violence.
‘It’s ridiculous, it shouldn’t have happened. But I’ve been here a long time, and I think that was the worst. It’s never been that bad before.’
Police on the scene had been called in from Brisbane city to monitor the scene of the crime, while other officers had been deployed to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, as well as the Princess Alexandra Hospital, where victims of the attack were taken on Sunday night.
A fight broke out among mourners at the Royal Brisbane Hospital about 10pm on Sunday as tensions boiled over following the melee.
An officer at the scene told Daily Mail Australia they were still trying to piece together all the information.
‘I don’t know too much about the neighbourhood and what it’s normally like,’ the officer said.
Police remained at the crime scene throughout Monday
The owner of nearby stores told Daily Mail Australia he never experienced much trouble with the youths, who regularly played basketball down at the local courts
‘We’re watching this car because it’s involved somehow. We’ve been told to keep an eye on it.’
A large portion of the community centre and car park were taped off by police late on Sunday as part of the investigation.
Within the crime scene was a small red hatchback, which was towed away about 1pm – after police spent hours monitoring, analysing and photographing it.
The car is believed to be linked to the crime, but police are still working to establish that connection.
Officers also sent a drone up to get a clearer image of the entire crime scene, which spanned across two basketball courts, the PCYC, car park and part of the soccer fields.
Two blood-soaked cloths were found within the crime scene.
Police tape blocked access to a nearby basketball court which is frequented by the youths
A red car pictured at the scene is reportedly making up part of the police investigation
Parts of the area itself were run down and in need of a face lift, with basketball hoops that were hanging on to the ring by a tether and graffiti etched into the sides of buildings.
Names were predominately scrawled on the walls, along with one sign which read ‘I am gay’.
Nearby, ‘FTP (f**k the police) had been scrawled on a separate building.
Police have not yet found those responsible for Sunday night’s brawl, but fear drugs could be a motivating factor behind local crime.
Detective Superintendent Tony Fleming said: ‘We know that the price of drugs is up at the moment and one of our working hypotheses is this is motivating the offending behaviour.’
He called for calm among the community, while confirming at least 20 people were involved in the initial altercation.
‘Most of the people involved in this aren’t co-operating with us and providing us detailed information.
Emergency crews were called to O’Callaghan Park in Zillmere at about 5.35pm on Sunday following a fight between two African gangs
Locals of the northern Brisbane suburb said they heart the sound of breaking bottles and saw ‘bodies on the ground just lying there’
‘What we do believe is that the people who were in the park and have been the victims in this attack were set upon by those who have turned up presumably for the purpose of the assault.
‘The offenders appear to be people of African heritage, the victims appear to be people of African heritage.’
Elders within the community will meet with police to discuss the violence.
Boarded up houses and businesses lined the streets nearby, feeling the pinch both of the COVID-19 pandemic but the social crisis, too.
Zillmere is home to about 8,967 people, according to the last Census data.
Between June 2020 and September 2020, at least 220 offences were reported in Zillmere alone, according to the Queensland Police online crime map.
At least 72 of those crimes were drug related, while a further 52 were linked to theft or handling stolen goods.
Assault, unlawful entry and carrying a weapon make up an additional 30 charges.