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Walk draws 270 to show support for Willmar's grieving Muslim community

WILLMAR--When Jared Wosmek posted on Facebook last week that he wanted to hold a walk Saturday to show support for Willmar's Muslim community as it grieved the drowning deaths of two young boys, he wasn't sure what kind of response he would get. ...

Walkers gather
An estimated 270 people showed up Saturday afternoon at Bethel Lutheran Church in downtown Willmar to begin a walk to show support for Willmar’s Muslim community as it grieves the drowning deaths of two young boys. Participants walked past the mosque on the north side of town and ended at Foot Lake near the fairgrounds, where the two boys drowned last week. (Linda Vanderwerf/Tribune)

WILLMAR-When Jared Wosmek posted on Facebook last week that he wanted to hold a walk Saturday to show support for Willmar's Muslim community as it grieved the drowning deaths of two young boys, he wasn't sure what kind of response he would get.

"My thought was that if only a few people showed up, that would be great," he said.

But the outpouring of support went way beyond anything he imagined.

An estimated 270 people showed up to join the walk Saturday afternoon. They started at Bethel Lutheran Church in downtown Willmar, went past the mosque on the north side of town and ended at Foot Lake near the fairgrounds, where the two boys drowned last week.

The deaths of Ahmed Hashi, 11, and Idris Hussein, 10, on June 28 shook the entire town but hit the close-knit Muslim community especially hard, Wosmek said.

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A family member reported the boys missing just before 6 p.m. that day. The two boys, both students at Kennedy Elementary School, were last seen playing at the dock near the entrance to the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds.

An intensive search of the neighborhood narrowed in on Foot Lake, where a couple of shoes were found floating near the dock. The boys were found shortly after 10 p.m. in about five feet of water. They were rushed to Rice Memorial Hospital by ambulance but could not be revived.

"I felt that there were a number of people in our community that wanted so much to show their support and love to the family and to our Muslim neighbors," Wosmek said.

The walk was meant to give people an opportunity to express that, he said. "I wanted whoever participated to get something meaningful from the event, and in turn possibly do something positive in their own way. I figured that if something good for the community were to come from one person, that would be a big win for all of us."

Wosmek said it's hard to describe how he felt when he arrived at Bethel and saw the crowd that had gathered.

"I was amazed at the turnout," he said.

Willmar Police Department officers helped manage traffic at the major intersections as the long and somber procession of walkers came through. Numerous pictures of the event popped up on social media throughout the afternoon and evening, some tweeted with the hashtag #WillmarLove.

Wosmek is a Willmar police officer but said he organized the walk simply as someone from the community who wanted to help.

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He called it "a beautiful moment" in which everything fell into place.

"What really made the event special were the individuals that showed up to take the walk," he said. "Without each of those people, that support and that love would never have been shown. It was the group that showed up that made it happen. They made all the difference in the world."

Wosmek said he had reached out ahead of time to Muslim friends to tell them about the walk. All of them were sincerely thankful for the show of love and support, he said.

He said he believes everyone who participated in the walk took home something positive.

"I believe a great deal of good came from it," he said. "It seems as though people genuinely were inspired to make their own difference in the lives of others and our community."

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