The body of a man believed to be the leader of a popular Islamic mosque on the Northeast Side was found inside a vehicle in a wooded lot at a North Side business.
As many as 200 people converged near the intersection of Joyce and Windsor avenues just after 3:30 p.m. Friday when news spread within the Somali community that Sheikh Mohamed Hassan Adam, longtime imam of the Masjid Abu Hurairah mosque, had been found deceased inside the vehicle.
According to Deputy Chief Tim Becker, official identification of the body had not been confirmed as police were awaiting the Franklin County Coroner’s office.
But many from the Somali community who came to the site said that the body found was that of Adam, and some of those said they had actually seen it.
Columbus Police cordoned off an area just west of Joyce Avenue that led to a gate into the All City Auto Recycling operation, a junk yard with large trees that was bounded by tall sheet metal fencing. Homicide detectives were at the scene Friday night.
Adam last conducted an evening service two days ago, the last time anyone could recall seeing him.
“When he didn’t return, his wife called him and he never answered. Everybody tried to reach him, but they couldn’t find him,” said Hassan Omar, president of the Somali Community Association of Ohio, who was at the scene.
That’s when the well-connected Somali community, believed to be the second-largest in the country behind the Minneapolis area, mobilized teams of people to search for him, “to look all around the city, the back lots, the neighborhood alleys, the junk yards, garages,” Omar said.
According to police, relatives called in a missing persons report around 2:30 p.m. Thursday. The report included Adam’s picture and that of the vehicle a yellow van used to transport children. The word “Students” was on the rear.
Some news outlets reported the disappearance, and it was posted Thursday and Friday on social media.
“I think somebody probably had seen the posting and the missing person’s picture and the van which was distinctive and called police,” said Det. Lisa Moody.
Becker said police didn’t want to disturb the potential crime scene before technicians and detectives could investigate. He said it could take hours to verify an identity.
“We haven’t gone real close to the body because we don’t want to corrupt any evidence,” Becker said.
A woman at the scene was led away distraught before falling to the ground and passing out. A Columbus Fire paramedic squad took her to an area hospital.
Several dozen people kneeled on the ground, facing north in prayer for their leader, a father, husband and businessman.
“We’re aware of the faith and religious beliefs,” Becker told a large gathering. “We’re expediting the process so that we don’t get in the way of any religious beliefs.”
Several people yelled their thanks to Becker for respecting their beliefs and faith.
Omar described Adam as a well-educated, well-liked man who devoted his life to helping others.
“During the pandemic, he was providing free food to the needy. During Hurricane Katrina, he helped lead efforts to get food, clothing and supplies from Ohio into Louisiana,” he said.
Adam was actively involved in Focus Learning Academy of Northern Columbus, a charter school serving mostly Somali students.
“Almost every kid here, he taught them the Quran, from start to finish,” said Abdi Omar, 29, explaining why so many people had shown up to pay respects.
He also established sports leagues for the community for soccer and basketball.
“We had no money. It was free for us. He took us on trips,” Omar said.