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Mourners gather to grieve over 10-year-old Barway Collins

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
More than 100 mourners assembled Saturday before the Cedarwood Apartments in Crystal for a candlelight vigil honoring Barway Collins.

More than 100 mourners assembled Saturday afternoon in Crystal for a tearful and emotional candlelight vigil honoring Barway Collins, whose body was found last week in the Mississippi River 24 days after he was reported missing.

Holding signs and mementos, mourners stood before the Cedarwood Apartments, where the 10-year-old lived with his father Pierre Collins, stepmother Yamah Collins and younger siblings.

One by one, more than a dozen community leaders addressed the crowd about the life and death of Barway — and demanded justice for the fourth-grader at Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School in Brooklyn Center.

“My son went to Evergreen School with Barway,” said Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services. “He was a smiling child. He was a child that was friendly, was so much exuberant, so much full of life.” 

Kiatamba added: “Our community deserves healing. Barway deserves justice. Anybody involving in the process, whether it’s our uncle, our sister, should be held accountable.”

Mamadee Sesay, executive director of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, said that Barway was known for volunteering during church services where he distributed the Bibles to congregations and arranged them after services.   

“All we can do for him is pray for him,” Sesay said. “No 10-year-old has to go through what he went through. Our community is hurting.”

Like many at the vigil, the Rev. Harding Smith, who has served as the spokesman for the family, praised the Crystal Police Department for solidifying the case and seeking justice for Barway. 

Smith also spoke directly to the community in an attempt to dispel speculations surrounding Barway’s body, which had duct tape around his feet and torso. But rumors in the community added that parts of Barway’s body were also missing.

“I want the community to be aware that I did view the body, there is no cuts, there’s no body parts that has been taken — the body is intact,” Smith assured the community. “It’s important that our people know that.”

He added: “We as a community are supposed to be a protector of our children. There’s a special place in hell for whoever did this gruesome act. There will be hell to pay. There’s nothing worst than taking a life of an innocent child.”

Father arrested for the death 

Last Tuesday, Pierre Collins was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in connection with his son’s death, though Collins has maintained his innocence. But authorities say they believe Collins killed Barway to recoup life insurance money.  

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told reporters last week: “We have set forth in the complaint the fact that he had life insurance out on Barway. We’ve set forth in the complaint that two days before Barway was missing, he sought to increase it by another $20,000. And thirdly, that he also had another policy on himself and all of his children, so that he would get at least $50,000 if Barway accidentally died. Let me underline ‘accidentally.'”

Meanwhile, Pastor Smith, the Collins family spokesman, reminded community members at the Saturday vigil to be cautious, encouraging them to withhold judgment. “We need to walk a tightrope and know that there’s something called due process,” he said. “Let’s not be judges. Let’s not castigate this family.”

Rev. Harding Smith
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Rev. Harding Smith spoke at a Saturday vigil commemorating Barway Collins in Crystal.
‘He was my hope’

On Sunday, Liberian radio host Mamadee Diakitie released a 21-minute interview with Barway’s biological mother, Louise Karluah, in Liberia. In the interview, which has surfaced on Facebook, Karluah spoke of her first encounter with Collins. 

Karluah told the radio host that she was 15 years old when Collins, her then-French teacher, called her inside his classroom for an assignment. When Karluah met him in the classroom, however, she endured something she hadn’t expected: “He started petting me and he raped me,” she said.

“That’s how I got pregnant with Edwin (the name she gave Barway at birth). He asked me to abort the pregnancy. He disowned the pregnancy. He was a very wicked man to me.

“My son was precious. He was my hope and he was a smart boy who promised to do things for me. He used to send me money.”

The Liberian community members, family and friends are raising funds to help Karluah be part of her son’s funeral services in Minnesota. Contributions can be made to the Barway Collins Fund account at TCF Bank. 

Barway’s funeral will be held at Shiloh Temple in north Minneapolis, said Smith on Saturday, but the date and time of the funeral is yet to be determined.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi.

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