Fremont, about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, is a bedroom city of 220,000 people with a thriving waterpark, leafy streets and a public lake. It is also home to the largest population of Afghan-Americans in the country.
With news that Omar Mateen killed 49 people at an Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub and was born to Afghan immigrant parents, those in the community are expressing horror, sorrow and disbelief that one of their own could commit the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. "Every single Afghan feels really horrible because so many innocent people were killed by a mad guy," said Waheed Momand, president of the Afghan Coalition, the largest nonprofit advocating for Afghan people in the U.S.
In last weekend's shooting, Mateen's motivations were not yet clear. "What motivated him doesn't matter — it's wrong and it's very close to our hearts. We feel sorry for the victims, and we feel sorry for the pain of their families and their loved ones. The fact that this guy was from Afghan origin makes it even worse for us," Momand said. Bilal Miskeenyar, a 29-year-old musician from Fremont, believes the shooter was motivated by hatred, saying it's anathema to Muslim and Afghan views. "Whether it was anti-homosexual or not, my religion, my people and my culture does not believe in such things," he said. "I think it was hateful, and I think it was a very hideous crime, and I think people should not judge (Afghan people) because of one bad apple."
In the wake of Sunday's shooting, Afghan Coalition members are meeting this week to plan an interfaith vigil or service, like they did after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Momand, the group's president, remembers its effect on the U.S. Afghan community. "(Terrorism) is not the human way, it's not the American way, it's not the Afghan way and it's not the Muslim way," Momand said.