A circle of men, some bent in prayer, waited as the stark wooden coffin containing the body of Abdulle Elmi was carried toward an open grave in a Toronto-area cemetery Sunday.
Mr. Elmi, 25, who was found shot to death in Toronto last week, is the most recent of dozens of young Somali men to be killed across the country in recent years. Most of the murders are unsolved and police believe many are related to street gangs and the drug trade.
As his coffin was lowered into the ground, Mr. Elmi's sister, Amal, looked on from a distance. She was among the women and children respecting tradition by waiting until the grave was covered in earth before coming closer to say goodbye to a man she said was a role model, not a criminal.
"Abdulle loved everybody. It didn't matter who you were, what you did," Ms. Elmi said.
Friends and family of Mr. Elmi had no answers as to why police found his body riddled with bullets in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke at 4 a.m. Thursday. He was far from his home in the city's downtown core, dressed in pyjamas and barefoot.
The Globe reported last week that a police source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Elmi had been affiliated with the street gang Sic Thugs.
"Even if it comes across that he was friends with someone in a gang ... he was friends with the person," Ms. Elmi said. "My brother had no gang affiliations whatsoever."
Mr. Elmi's mother stood under a patch of trees away from the crowd of mourners. Wrapped in a bright yellow scarf, she wiped tears from her face as she hugged her son, Amir.
It was an image all too familiar for many of those in attendance. Just a month prior, members of the same community gathered to bury Mr. Elmi's cousin, Ahmed Hassan, 24, who died in a shooting at the downtown Eaton Centre mall. Two weeks after that, Hussein Hussein, 28, also Somali-Canadian, was found shot to death in a Toronto condominium.
A large group of friends came to say goodbye to Mr. Elmi, some of whom knew him by the nicknames "Shaka Zulu," or "Wizard."
"He was very impressive. A brilliant mind with a great soul," said Cameron Boatman, who was a roommate of Mr. Elmi's for four months in 2009. "Even if he had nothing he would share it with you."
Ms. Elmi said her brother was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. She said their parents, both highly educated, wanted their children to be "global citizens."
His mother brought him to the United States as a toddler when she began a master's program at the University of Pennsylvania. They later moved to Toronto and then to Minneapolis, where most of his family still lives. Mr. Elmi left his family four years ago to join his grandmother in Toronto. Shortly after he arrived, he took her to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage.
Mr. Elmi studied political science at the University of Toronto, but he took a break when his student loans grew too large. His sister said he had talked about returning to school to study journalism, but lately all he could talk about was returning to Somalia to "inspire people and cause change."
Many friends who were at the burial had met Mr. Elmi in university. "He's going to be close to my heart for the rest of my life," said Shafiq Aziz, another of Mr. Elmi's friends. "He'll be very dearly missed."
Abdifatah Warsame, a youth worker with the Centre for Youth Development and Mentoring Services, said Mr. Elmi occasionally came to the centre to help members of the community.
"I want my son to be like him," he said.