Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Monday, May 21, 2018. It was updated on Tuesday to include information about Zoker’s criminal past.
Edmonton’s latest homicide victim is being remembered by a woman who considers herself his grandmother as a child who didn’t have a fair shake at life.
At just 23 years old, Ibrahim Zoker died of gunshot wounds on Wednesday. He was found by first responders in Callingwood after residents reported hearing gunshots. He died soon after in hospital.
Long before his death, the Zokers came to Canada as refugees in 2003, fleeing war in Liberia.
Denise Nelson met the family of six and invited them to her church, even offering them a ride in the church van.
“I also had my grandchildren in the van,” she said on Monday. “My grandchildren called me Grandma. So these children took to calling me Grandma.”
Nelson smiled as she reflected back on those days.
“Ibrahim, when he first came? He was outgoing. He would see a kid and wanted to play with them,” she said.
“I remember the sweet, innocent little boy that came to Canada, running to me every time he would see the church van coming and say, ‘Grandma’s here for us!'”
But it didn’t last long. Zoker spoke broken English and struggled in school.
“The children there were really mean to him. They bullied him. They’d done all kinds of things to him,” Nelson said. “The older kids just mocked him and made fun of the way he talked.”
One time, Nelson recalled Zoker coming home wet. He said he’d been pushed to the ground and peed on by bullies.
She believes the relentless bullying sent him down the wrong path.
Then, at the age of 11, Zoker was separated from his family. He was shuffled from one group home to another, even living in hotels for a period.
Nelson said he never felt accepted.
“Then, after 12, he found his acceptance on the streets. The gangs. He thought they liked him.”
After that, Zoker ended up in trouble with the law repeatedly. He was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 36 months in jail. He was also convicted of assault with a weapon causing bodily harm and sentenced to four months.
“‘It’s safe. Nobody can hurt me here,'”Nelson said she can remember him saying.
She believes he fell through the cracks.
“I loved that boy. But I just couldn’t get through to him in the end. It had gone too far already.”
Nelson said he needed counselling and to feel loved.
“He made bad choices. But he had reasons for the bad choices. Not good reasons, but he had reasons. And his bad choices were his demise,” Nelson said.
She said she cried when she heard Zoker had been killed.
“He didn’t have a fair shake from the beginning.”
No arrests have been made in Zoker’s death. Homicide detectives continue to investigate.