Refugee’s daughter is attacked and now needs heart transplant
When police needed an administrator from the International Newcomer Academy on April 19, the day of a near-death attack that was made on a 12-year-old immigrant girl, they reached Faiha Al-Atrash.
Authorities could not find her parents’ apartment and they needed someone who could be responsible, so she volunteered to come, Al-Atrash said. What she expected to see was the type of injury that children might get during a school fight, Al-Atrash said. That’s not what she saw. The student’s name was Dorika.
“I got there and police were everywhere,” she said. “She was in the ambulance. Her lips were all swollen and she had this frozen stare. She has known me for months but all she did was stare.”
Al-Atrash and the parents went to Cook Children’s Medical Center.
”Because at that time they (her doctors) were afraid she was going to die,” Al-Atrash said.
The girl’s father, Twizere Buhinja, 36, said doctors have told him that the man who strangled his daughter cut the flow of oxygen to her vital organs long enough to damage her heart and that she needs a new one. Buhinja and his wife have five sons, from four months old to 15 years. Dorika is their only daughter.
Once again, their lives have been changed, Buhinja said Friday through an interpreter. Buhinja speaks some English but his first language is Swahili.
“She will need medication for the rest of her life,” Buhinja said. “I believe she will get better but she will never have the strength that she once had.”
Dorika was walking to her school bus at Calmont Avenue and Laredo Drive in the Las Vegas Trail neighborhood of west Fort Worth when she was attacked, according to authorities.
Terry Wayne King II, 36, was arrested on July 17 by officials with the U.S. Marshal’s Service and was in Oklahoma County Jail on Friday. King has signed an extradition waiver and is awaiting transport to Tarrant County, according to the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.
King, who has lived in Fort Worth in recent years, is facing a charge of injury to a child causing serious bodily injury. If convicted, he could serve life in prison. One of the police detectives working on the case, Pat Henz, said that King has an extensive criminal history in Tarrant County and in other states besides Texas.
Police say they believe King, who was employed as a truck driver, may have moved around a lot and might have committed crimes in other locations. Police want to talk to any potential victims, Henz said. Police said Friday they have no new information about this case.
In 1996, Buhinja left the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a refugee camp in Uganda where he spent the next 16 years before traveling more than 8,000 miles with his family to Fort Worth. The family has lived in Fort Worth for less than two years.
Buhinja left the Congo because he was afraid he would be kidnapped and forced to be a soldier. Even with what has happened to his daughter, Buhinja said he is happy to be in the United States.
“I have been reassured that this man will never threaten us again,” Buhinja said.
‘I am scared ... where I live’
Catholic Charities helped the Buhinja family find a place to live when they arrived in Fort Worth, and ended up paying their rent for four months until Buhinja got a job.
Officials with Catholic Charities are now helping the family fill out forms to help pay for Dorika’s medical bills, Buhinja said.
“They are helping me find a different place to live because I am scared to stay where I live now,” Buhinja said. “Someone tried to kill my daughter. My children are very scared after what happened to my daughter.”
But the odds of dying in the Congo are far greater than the odds of being killed in the U.S., according to Dominique Diomi of Arlington, president of the Congolese Community of Dallas-Fort Worth.
The majority of the estimated 15,000 Congolese immigrants in Texas, most who live in Tarrant and Dallas counties, left the country because of war and the rumors of war, Diomi said.
“The Congo has known war for the past 20 years,” Diomi said. “”The most intense conflict was between 2001 and 2003.”
Six countries were involved in the fighting around that time and the result was an estimated 5 million deaths, according to reporting by The Washington Post. At least 4 million people were displaced, Diomi said. With the exception of Syria, it was the biggest refugee population the modern world has ever seen.
The things that people fear in the U.S. are nothing compared to the things they fear in the Congo, said Diomi, who had experienced years of fighting by the time he left in 1997.
“These kids, they don’t have a clue,” Diomi said. “It’s not like the video games. You have groups of people who come into a village and start chopping up the inhabitants with machetes.”
After Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, some in the Congolese community were afraid of what might happen to them in America, but others have counseled them not to worry. They are told that the best thing to do is obey the law, Diomi said. Congolese immigrants have also reported experiencing racism in North Texas, Diomi said.
“We come from a country where we’ve seen a lot worse,” Diomi said. “What we’ve experienced in America pales in comparison to what we’ve experienced in the past.”
Some in the North Texas Congolese community have said that the April 19 attack against Buhinga’s daughter was racist in nature, even though police said they have not been able to find a motive.
“What else could it have been?” Diomi asked. “But I was not there. How could I possibly know?”
‘I am very happy to be here’
On July 10, Dorika celebrated her 13th birthday in the hospital surrounded by her brothers, parents and a birthday cake, all while she was connected to the various machines that were helping to keep her alive.
Every night Buhinja is at the hospital and every Friday he has a meeting with her doctors to discuss her progress.
“I told her there is a machine to help her heart and they inserted it inside her body,” Buhinja said. “I told her she is on a waiting list to get a new heart because this one must be replaced.”
Dorika replied that if a new heart will help her return to her family and school that “will be nice,” Buhinja said.
Buhinja’s mother, father and brother, who still live in the DRC, along with children and staff from the school Dorika attended, have encouraged the family to remain hopeful. Family and friends tell Buhinja they are praying for Dorika’s speedy recovery and have contributed to the family’s well-being.
Al-Atrash established a victim’s assistance fund for the family three months ago that quickly raised nearly $10,500. The funding goal was $10,000 and all told, more than $12,000 was donated to the family, Al-Atrash said. But that was before the full extent of Dorika’s injuries were known, Al-Atrash said.
Another GoFundMe page was established Friday to defray medical and other expenses the family will incur, with a goal of $25,000.
The faculty, children and staff at the Academy banded together to get supplies for the family, which receives food assistance from the federal government but does not for diapers for their 4-month-old boy, or cleaning supplies or personal items, Al-Atrash said.
Buhinja works as a cellphone packager, and barely makes more than minimum wage, Al-Atrash said.
When Buhinja walked into Al-Atrash’s office and saw it filled with the diapers, wet wipes, shampoo and other items the family needed, he said he cried.
“I thought when I came to America, I did not have any family,” Buhinja said. “I thought I was all alone. Now I know that I have a huge family in America, made up of all of you. And I am very happy to be here.”