Nightmare didn't kill family's dream
St. Olaf Lutheran Church helped murder victim’s family.
Gunmen walked into DMZ Sportswear on West Broadway in north Minneapolis one day in October, 1999, and murdered Liberian-born shopkeeper Matthew Nimene.
The tragedy reverberated through nearby St. Olaf Lutheran Church, 2901 Emerson Ave. N.
The mother, brother-in-law and nephew of the victim are all members of St. Olaf. The 90-year-old parish, founded by Norwegian immigrants, has strong ties to Lutherans from the West African nation of Liberia now living in the Twin Cities. In fact, the current president of St. Olaf congregation is a former Liberian cabinet minister.
St. Olaf Church’s pastor, the Rev. Dale Hulme, led his members in confronting the confusing aftermath. Pastor Hulme was asked to respond as a representative of community clergy. Leaders proposed offering a reward to help find the killer, and Pastor Hulme suggested establishing a fund to help the family.
Because details of the killing and the motive were not fully understood at the time, a fund for the family was not established. However, a reward was offered. It resulted in an arrest and, ultimately, the sentencing of the convic-ted gunman as well as three accomplices.
Matthew Nimene’s daughter, Valerie, then 16, and three customers were hiding in the store’s basement while her father struggled with his assailants. As Matthew ran to the back of the store, he was shot by a gun equipped with a silencer.
In the ensuing confusion, family members hurried over from their nearby apartment; because they crossed the police line, they were handcuffed by police. The Minn-eapolis Police Department later offered an official apology for its conduct at the time and insensitivity to the family in its time of grief.
Also troubling to the family was the killer’s courtroom plea. A grand jury in the case ruled that the gunman should be charged with first degree murder. But, at the time of the trial, the presiding judge allowed the gunman to plead guilty to second-degree unintentional murder.
The result was a 16-year prison sentence. Said Pastor Hulme, “The family didn’t feel the justice system worked for them and didn’t agree with the sentence.”
Support from St. Olaf Lutheran included three pastors ministering to the family the day of the funeral service, obtaining a car for Matthew’s widow, Louisa, and about $800 in cash memorial gifts.
Pastor Hulme felt frustrated at the time by not being able to include information on a memorial fund for the family in published obituaries. That might have helped raise more financial support for the family, now left without husband, father and breadwinner. Hulme says he would like to do more for the struggling family.
St. Olaf also conducted a well-attended memorial service one year after the fatal shooting.
Louisa said, “St. Olaf has been like a family to us. Pastor Hulme frequently stops by the store and our home to see how we are doing. Words can’t express how grateful we are for the support given us by the church.”
The tragedy and its aftermath could have shattered the Nimene family’s dream of becoming productive citizens in their adopted land. Not so. The family and extended family are still striving to revive the DMZ Sportswear store. But, because of financial problems, they can’t afford to hire people to staff it. Louisa said she operates the store from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with help from her daughters, Valerie, now 19, and Elizabeth, 20, and other family members.
Ed Gearty, who owns the building that houses the store along with partner James W. Ronning, says, “Matthew was just an exceptional human being and a hard worker. The West Broadway business community lost a tremendous asset when Matthew died.” He said the family continues to hold a lease on the store and operate it. He observed that the store building has security in place as a result of several robbery attempts prior to October 1999. He explained that the security was necessary because the store’s merchandise is “readily saleable on the street.”
As evidence of their determination to continue with Matthew’s dream of establishing the business, the family has added a sign to the front of the store that reads “The Dream Lives On.”
[Editor’s note: After this story was written, thieves broke into DMZ Sportswear and carried away between $80,000-$100,000 in merchandise. Insur-ance coverage had become impossible to obtain. Because of Mat-thew Nimene’s murder, insurance companies had refused to provide it.]
A fund has been established to help the Nimene family — widow Louisa, two daughters and a son born after the murder. Individuals may contribute to The Matthew Nimene Memorial Fund, Northeast State Bank, 77 Broadway St. N., Minneapolis, MN 55415.