Joan Namachemo, 34, was building the life she had always wanted after moving to Des Moines from Kenya.
She and her husband, Mike Wasike, were raising a family, working several jobs and making enough to send money back home. They endured years apart to achieve a dream of living in the United States, where there was safety and opportunity for the family.
But in what police said Friday was a random violent act — rare in Des Moines — their lives were transformed.
Wasike, 36, was pulled from his car Feb. 26, beaten and left unconscious in the snow a few blocks from his home. He suffered a broken skull and remains hospitalized.
“We’ve been working day in and day out to raise our kids and support our family back home, so this is devastation,” Namachemo said this week.
Detectives hope to make arrests in the next few days and expect to conclude the investigation of the case Tuesday, said Sgt. Steven Woody, a Des Moines police spokesman.
Justice for her husband’s attackers would provide some peace of mind, Namachemo said, but it cannot repair the damage done to her family.
“My kids cry every night; someone took their father away,” she said. “Whoever did this robbed my life completely.”
Road from Kenya to America long
Namachemo arrived in Des Moines 11 years ago with $100 in her pocket and two outfits in her backpack.
She and Wasike grew up in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and largest city, with more than 3 million residents.
He worked for the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency. She taught high school. They had a daughter, Sandrah, who is now 12.
Both came from big families where money was tight. School is difficult to afford in Kenya, and even among those who get an education, many end up unemployed or underemployed. Kenya has also struggled for years to deal with violent crime, often tied to ethnicity or politics.
Coming to America was a dream until Namachemo won permanent residency through a lottery program that awards 50,000 visas a year to residents of countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. She chose Iowa after being accepted to a master’s program at Des Moines University for health care administration.
But coming to America meant leaving Wasike behind until he could get a visa of his own.
In the meantime, Namachemo earned her master’s, worked several jobs and saved money. Four years ago, Wasike was finally awarded permanent residency.
“It was an excitement for the whole family when he got that visa,” said Wasike’s older brother Fidel Wasike, who arrived in Des Moines this week to help care for his brother.
With Wasike finally stateside, things started to fall into place.
He worked two jobs — days as a Wells Fargo data analyst and overnights as a care provider at an Altoona autism care center. That let Namachemo, an administrator at a group home, spend more time at home.
They had a second child, a boy named Melvin. They made their home in a two-story duplex in a middle-class neighborhood on Des Moines’ northwest side.
“He was so happy to get here. We were doing so good — and now for this to happen,” Namachemo said of the attack, “it’s like pulling my life into reverse.”
Police believe attack was truly random
Namachemo was asleep when police knocked on the door the night of Feb. 26.
She knew something was wrong. Her husband should have been home hours earlier.
Police said a passer-by had spotted Wasike lying bloodied and motionless in the snow at 50th Street and Twana Drive. Detectives believe his attackers used a weapon of some kind to beat him and steal his car, which was found abandoned days later.
Woody, the Des Moines police sergeant, said Friday that it appears the attackers selected Wasike randomly as their victim. In Des Moines most assaults are tied to domestic issues or drugs. Truly random attacks are rare, he said.
Namachemo is afraid to open the door now. The attack happened so close to home.
“It’s a nightmare, really,” she said. “I wake up thinking these people know where I live and where my kids are. It’s scary.”
Victim faces long, costly recovery
In the days following the attack, Namachemo slept curled in the corner of her husband’s hospital room cuddling their two children. She still sleeps at the hospital most nights.
Wasike’s recovery will be difficult. He has emerged from a coma and can open his eyes slightly but is not fully conscious or aware of his surroundings.
“Doctors think he will improve, but it won’t be an overnight thing,” Namachemo said. “It will be a long recovery.”
Namachemo worries about Sandrah and Melvin, who is 3. They ask often to go to the hospital, hoping their dad has woken up.
“You bring them in there, and their daddy’s not talking and he’s hooked to all these machines, and it just breaks their hearts,” she said.
Wasike will need a long-term-care facility, but Namachemo worries how she will afford it. The family has lost not only his two salaries, but also her income because she is on unpaid leave taking care of him and the kids.
Namachemo said she’s grateful for support from the community. About $17,000 has been donated to two charity funds — one at Wells Fargo, the other at Bank of America — for her husband, but his medical bills are several times that. “I don’t like to beg; I don’t like to ask for financial aid, but whoever did this put me in a really desperate situation,” she said.
At home in Kenya, Wasike’s family is concerned. Fidel Wasike said their 73-year-old mother calls often with questions: Is he awake yet? Is he talking? Can you put the phone where I can hear him breathing?
“Mike is strong,” his older brother said. “I have a strong feeling and believe he will be OK.”
Source: Des Moines Register