COLUMBUS - Fifteen miles northeast of Ohio State University, where a Somali immigrant attempted a gruesome attack Monday, Omar Hassan grieved. And worried.
"The timing is not good," Hassan, 54, said in reference to the country's increasingly intensified anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fears. "We are black. We are Muslim. We are Somali. We are all the negative stigmas."
Hassan sat in the lobby of the Somali Community Association offices upstairs and around the back of a 1970s-era strip mall on Cleveland Avenue. He said the office is the first stop for people arriving from the east African nation who are seeking an apartment, a job lead or a decent school for the children.
In the past few years, the large Somali refugee community in central Ohio has come under increased scrutiny over concerns that ISIS sympathizers could be hiding there. Not so, said Hassan, who has been in the United States for 26 years and in Columbus for the past 17.
With more than 50,000 residents, the Somali refugee community of Columbus is the second largest in the United States, behind only that of Minneapolis.
Yet despite the expanse of the mid-Ohio immigrant community, word spread fast Monday morning and didn't take long to reach the ears of Hassan, leader of the Columbus-based Somali Community Association of Ohio and known as the community's unofficial mayor.
Police say a Somali immigrant, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, drove his car onto the sidewalk during a mid-morning attack, hitting several pedestrians, then getting out of his car and wielding a butcher's knife.
Artan, who was a student at Ohio State, was born in Somalia and living in the United States as a legal permanent resident, according to multiple news outlets, citing unidentified law enforcement officials. It was unclear when Artan came to the U.S.
Artan was enrolled at Columbus State Community College from the autumn semester of 2014 through the summer semester of 2016, according to college spokesman Allen Kraus.
He graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in the spring of 2016 and then took a non-credit class for summer 2016. He had no record of behavioral or disciplinary issues during his time at Columbus State, and graduated with honors, Kraus added.
Hassan knows members of the suspect's family. He spoke with them at 3 p.m. Monday.
"They said the U.S. officials came this morning and got his mother and siblings," Hassan said.
Eleven people with non-life threatening injuries were taken to local hospitals. Police shot and killed the suspect. The campus was still basking in the glow of Saturday's Ohio State football victory in double-overtime over hated rival Michigan.
'America is my friend'
Hassan said his community and many of its members live under a cloud of suspicion and scrutiny.
"America is not my enemy. America is my friend," he said. "Anybody who sees my different is wrong. My Somali community loves America. We appreciate our country and the opportunity America gives us. We came here for a better life. We came here for an education. We came here to work. We came here to practice our religion."
Somali refugees began arriving in Columbus in large numbers about a generation ago. Having fled the civil war in their homeland, Somalis lived first in refugee camps before the United States government resettled them here. Friends and relatives across the country heard about the ample job opportunities and lower cost of living in central Ohio.
So they work in warehouses and with distribution companies, jobs that don't require fluency in English. Refugees and other newcomers from Somalia have started 800 businesses in the Columbus area.
"We do not have a spike in crime," Hassan said. "But we are human beings. We might have a couple of bad actors, like any community does. Crime is everywhere. Criminals are everywhere. Punish the individual, not the entire community. We do not want to get a bad label because of an individual."
He said a recent plot by white nationalists to damage a Kansas apartment complex and kill its Somali residents was greeted with "great, great appreciation" toward law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"We love the United States and we love Columbus," Hassan said. "We vote. We pay taxes. We buy homes. We buy cars. We want to contribute to our country. We feel like Columbus is the perfect place to live."
USA TODAY's Aamer Madhani contributed.