Man killed in Fort Worth crash had fled Rwanda

Posted Friday, Mar. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Rwanda

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Funeral

10 a.m. Saturday at New Hope Church, 3122 S. Clack, Abilene

Definitions

Asylee

A person in the United States who can't return to his or her homeland because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Refugee

A person outside their homeland who is allowed into the United States due to well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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FORT WORTH -- Emmanuel Mutunzi came to America in 2007 and became a leader among African refugees seeking to rebuild lives after fleeing ethnic discrimination and political persecution in Rwanda.

A resident of Abilene, where he had recently been joined by his wife and five children, Mutunzi traveled to Fort Worth on March 9 to help members of the Congolese-Rwandan communities plan a traditional African wedding.

But during a rain storm that evening, Mutunzi was killed in a car wreck.

Dozens of people from Congolese-Rwandan communities in Texas and Iowa are expected to travel to Abilene on Saturday to attend his funeral. Both states have drawn waves of immigrants and refugees who have joined existing African communities or found jobs.

"He was an important person in the community," said Eugene Kiruhura, a nephew living in Des Moines, Iowa. "He was a nice, nice person."

Kiruhura said they are searching for ways to help Mutunzi's wife and children, who speak little or no English and have few resources. There efforts include asking for donations to pay for funeral costs via Facebook.

"It was so hard for the community," Kiruhura said. "The family, they don't know anything about the United States. It is so sad."

Mutunzi, 47, had been a back-seat passenger in a car involved in the three-vehicle collision in the 5500 block of McCart Avenue. An SUV heading south on McCart about 8:20 p.m. was rear-ended by the car Mutunzi was traveling in, police said.

That SUV had stopped at a red light at Walton Avenue. A pickup then crashed into the car in which Mutunzi was riding, crushing it between the two vehicles. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

"It is sad," said Murama Rugumanya, a Congolese Tutsi refugee who works for Catholic Charities in Fort Worth. "It is beyond what you can think."

Rugumanya said about 50 people are traveling from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Abilene.

'Where do I belong?'

Kiruhura said his uncle had been working for several years to bring his family to the United States.

"Imagine," Kiruhura said. "For five years not to be with your family."

Kiruhura said his uncle wanted to take the family to see Florida this summer.

Mutunzi, a political asylee from Rwanda, knew firsthand how the desire to build a new chapter in the United States can be difficult because refugees are trying to learn a new culture, language while searching for work and opportunity, Kiruhura said.

The Congolese-Rwandan community to which Mutunzi belonged is made up of asylees and refugees displaced by continued unrest in the African countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

Many are ethnic Tutsi, whose relatives were displaced from Rwanda and went to neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Generations of Congolese Tutsi have tried to survive amid ethnic and political persecution in both African countries, said Rugumanya.

"When you are in the Congo, you feel like you are not home," Rugumanya said. "When you are in Rwanda, you feel like you are not at home. You feel like, 'Where do I belong?"

'They were so happy'

Kiruhura said his uncle, was the president of a bank in Rwanda, faced political problems and left. For a time, he lived with Rugumanya in Maine. Later, he stopped in other regions as he tried to build a new life.

Vincent Thomas befriended Mutunzi in Rock Island, Ill., where he lived for a while. Thomas said Mutunzi was trying to learn English and find work.

"I helped him doing a resume and trying to get him places to stay ... job interviews," Thomas said.

Thomas said that when Mutunzi's family was threatened in Rwanda, they fled.

"He told me that he had to leave because the new regime that came in wanted him to give some of the money in the bank for whatever purposes," Thomas said. "He said he couldn't do that because it was the people's money."

Abilene felt like home to Mutunzi, friends said.

"He talked about the United States being good," Kiruhura said. "They were so happy."

Diane Smith, (817) 390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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