(Photo: Tom Dodge, Columbus Dispatch, AP)
A 17-year-old Iraqi boy had to identify the bodies of his parents and four sisters killed in an Ohio car accident involving a police officer responding to a call about a robbery, a social worker helping surviving relatives said Saturday.
Majeda Mohammad, a case worker for Community Refugee and Immigration Services in Columbus, has been with the family almost constantly since the early morning Friday crash killed 39-year-old Eid Badi Shahad, his wife, 31-year-old Entisar Hameed, and their four daughters, who ranged from 2 to 16 years old.
They leave behind four sons, who are 5, 6, 12 and 17 years old.
The family are refugees from Basra, Iraq, who moved to the U.S. about three years ago and loved their new life in America, Mohammad said.
She said the 17-year-old, Mushary Badi, is in unimaginable pain after learning of the loss and identifying his family members' bodies, but that he already has begun assuming a caretaker role for his grief-stricken grandmother and younger brothers.
"He came home from the hospital and called for his youngest brother, and he said, 'I need to give him a hug.' And he hugged his brother and cried," Mohammad said. "Then he called each of them one by one and hugged them and said that he would take care of them. Then he told his grandmother not to worry and that she needed to eat and take her medicine."
A funeral for the family was set for Saturday evening after regular prayers at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center just outside of Columbus, with hundreds expected to attend and family members traveling from Kuwait, Canada, Maine and Texas to be there. A candlelight vigil at the scene of the crash was expected to follow.
Shahad, who was driving, and his family are believed to have been killed almost instantly after a police cruiser responding to a robbery hit their car while it was stopped in the middle of an intersection around 1:30 a.m. Friday.
The police car had its lights flashing and siren blaring, and a dash-camera video shows the family's Toyota Corolla had a red light when it reached the intersection and came to a complete stop just before the crash.
Shahad may have realized he ran the red light and was going to back up or that he may have seen the cruiser coming and froze, Chief Robert Oppenheimer of Perry Township police said.
"We can only speculate, because we'll probably never know," he said.
Officer Shawn Paynter, 30, who was driving the car that hit the Shahad family, was released from the hospital after being treated for a serious head injury, said Officer Heather Galli, a spokeswoman for the Upper Arlington Police Department in suburban Columbus. He is dealing with the shock of the accident with his wife and parents, she said.
"It's just heartbreaking and tragic," Galli said. "Our goal as a police officer is to protect and serve, and this type of a situation, where it's truly an accident, it's tough and challenging."
Mohammad described Shahad as a dedicated and loving father and son, who made it a priority to care for his mother, who is in her 80s and had suffered a stroke. He also loved playing with his children, she said, taking the boys to a park for soccer and basketball on Saturdays and taking the girls on Sundays.
She said the Iraqi refugee community is coming together to support the surviving boys and their grandmother, and that one of Shahad's brothers will live with them indefinitely as they try to heal.