When Hamza Warsame fell to his death from a Capitol Hill apartment building in December 2015, it sparked an international controversy and an outpouring of grief and outrage within Seattle’s Muslim community. Concerns spread that the promising Seattle Central College student had been the victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime and the Seattle Police Department was withholding information on the case.
A Seattle Police report completed earlier this year and recently made available reveals more details on why authorities believe the 16-year-old’s death was an accident and not a hate crime. The newly released report follows the determination by the King County Medical Examiner that Warsame’s death was accidental. Chief among the new details: the teen may have been trying to jump to an adjacent roof after smoking marijuana for the first time.
The report also includes the first information released about the 21-year student who was with Warsame when he fell.
According to the documents, first reported on by the Seattle Times, Warsame arrived at an apodment building near Summit and Thomas at 2:30 PM on December 5th to work on a project with a fellow student.
The 21-year-old male classmate told police that Warsame said he never smoked marijuana before but wanted to try it. After the two smoked, the student told police he began to make some food. Soon after, around 3:30 PM, he said Warsame became “frantic” over how smoking marijuana would affect his standing as a Muslim.
Warsame said he needed air. Before the other student could react, he told police Warsame had opened the patio door, leapt over a three-foot railing, and jumped from the balcony’s ledge.
“He was saying something about religion … really weird,” the student told police. “I don’t know why… all of a sudden, he jumped off.”
A deceptively large gap between two buildings could have been a factor in the fall. A two-foot ledge extends beyond the apodment’s patio railing. Police later observed that when standing on the patio it appears the adjacent building is flush against the apodment building, when in fact there is an 11.5-foot alley separating them.
A detective noted in a report, “It is possible he attempted to jump to another building but misjudged the distance and subsequently fell.” The King County Medical Examiner found that evidence suggested Warsame jumped from the balcony, and that it was unlikely he was pushed. According to police there were no signs of a struggle inside the apartment. Relatives of Warsame told CHS he was not suicidal or depressed.
Warsame’s blood was later found to contain “relatively high” levels of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. While Warsame’s judgement may have been impaired by the drug given to him by his classmate, King County prosecutors said that the classmate was not responsible for Warsame’s death. The office agreed with investigators that the death was accidental and did not file charges in the case.
In the course of the investigation, students at Seattle Central and others in Seattle’s Muslim community began using social media to call attention to the death with the #justice4hamza campaign. City Council District 3 rep Kshama Sawant said rising Islamophobia contributed to the wave of concern around the teen’s death.
According to police, the 21-year-old student retained a lawyer when rumors circulated that Warsame had been the victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime.
Warsame attended Rainier Beach High School and was starting his first quarter at Seattle Central under the college’s Running Start program, a SCC spokesperson told CHS. Running Start allows high school juniors and seniors to take college–level classes for high school and college credit. His sister told CHS the family immigrated from Somalia to Seattle in 1994. She said Hamza wanted to attend MIT in Boston to study computer science.