Unsolved Murder

Photograph of Ermias Kassaye courtesy of his family

By Carolina Orozco Rincon

The Guardsman

Ermias Kassaye was shot dead around midnight on June 28 in San Francisco. It has been over four months since his murder and it’s still an unsolved case. His family and police have asked any witnesses to provide information to capture his killer and put an end to this tragic event.

Kassaye, 25, was heading home from soccer practice in Oakland when he was shot execution style by a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun at the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and Howth Street, police said.  Kassaye was a block away from his Ingleside neighborhood house.

His mother, Sara Zer’ai, is pleading for help.

“Who killed my son and why? What was the problem for killing my son?” Zer’ai said. “My family and I came seeking refuge from violence in Ethiopia to now find ourselves in this devastating situation.”

The motive for his murder is still unknown. Investigators and Kassaye’s family believe it is a case of mistaken identity, but haven’t ruled out the possibility of a robbery that turned deadly. However, police say that Kassaye was found with all of his belongings.

Other signs suggest something was bothering Kassaye.

Poems found in his journal had emotional words and titles like “Goodbye.”

A classmate told his mother that Kassaye drew a crying eye on his desk several days before the shooting.

His closest friends, however, said there was no suspicious behavior signaling that something was wrong.

Kassaye was a part time student at City College since 2005. His initial goal was to be a firefighter, but he later changed that to become a soccer coach.

“He hoped to create a foundation to help orphan kids in Ethiopia through soccer,” his brother Hannibal Kassaye said.

After his death, an Ermias Foundation was created in his memory.

“He was preparing financially and was ready to finish City College to start something to help his country,” his friend Omer Mohamed said. “Meanwhile, each time his sister (Ada Kassaye) was traveling to Ethiopia, Ermias would spend some money on soccer balls or anything he could afford to send with her for the Ethiopian children.”

Police Sketch of the man thought to be responsible for the death of 25 year old Ermias Kassaye.

Kassaye was training for the All Ethiopian Sports Association ONE, an Ethiopian soccer tournament that takes place every year in the U.S., on the night he was killed. The tournament was held in Washington D.C., on July 1, just three days after his murder.

Kassaye, or “EK,” as his teammates called him, played for two years as a midfielder with the City College Rams soccer team. His former teammates were shocked when they learned the news of his death.

“He was very passionate about soccer,” City College soccer Coach Adam Lucarelli said. “EK was not a troublemaker. He was a quiet kid, loved soccer, was fun to be around with. We joked a little bit. I remember the team liking him. As a matter of fact, [faculty] started this little scholarship fund, and he was one of the kids I gave a scholarship to for his academics.”

Lucarelli plans to do a memorial at one of the City College soccer games and give Kassaye’s jersey to his family.

“There are just good things to say about him. [Kassaye’s death] was a real tragedy,” Lucarelli said.

Apart from being a student, Kassaye also worked at the clothing store Forever 21, where he was a sales associate on the store’s third floor.

“He was social,” store Manager Jerusalem Gebru said. Gebru also considered Kassaye to be a friend. “He would keep to himself, though, but was very friendly. He got along with all of his four co-workers. He used to say that his dream was to be a famous soccer player and help poor kids,” Gebru said.

According to neighbor Patricia Lynn, violence has increased in the area.

“It’s unfortunate,” Lynn said. “I was robbed last month, they stole every piece of electronic I had, even the coffee maker.”

The middle school ID of Ermias Kassaye when he was 13-14 years of age. Courtesy of Family

Police believe the suspect is a six-foot-tall black man with dreadlocks below his shoulders.  Witnesses told police that he jumped into the back of a Pontiac car which was followed by an SUV on Louisburg Street towards Geneva Avenue. The car was seen driving away from the scene after the murder.

A candlelight vigil is held on the 28th of each month at 8 p.m. at 70 Josiah Avenue in Ingleside. Refreshments are served at 7 p.m.

If anyone has information related to this case, call San Francisco police Inspector John Cagney at 415-525-2277 or the Police Department’s anonymous tip line at 415-575-4444.

For information about Ermias Foundation, write to Ada Kassaye at

Follow Orozco on Twitter: @caritorozco

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