by Jordan Green
Marwan Mujali came to the United States from his native Palestine when he was in his mid-twenties. He met his future wife, Karen, around that time, and they soon married. They moved to New Jersey, where Karen is from, and started a family.
Marwan’s brother, Dr. Adnan Mjalli, who is the founder, president and CEO of TransTech Pharma, encouraged the couple to move to the Triad. They settled in High Point, and built a rental-housing business in Greensboro.
“We bought a house,” Karen recalled. “We worked together…. When we lived up north he had a construction company. It was easy to go into apartments. He did the maintenance and cut the grass. We worked with the Greensboro Housing Authority, Urban Ministry and the Greensboro Housing Coalition. I had some tenants from the Servants Center. I worked with the [Interactive Resource Center] — all the different agencies that help people get back on their feet. It might be people with bad credit or people who have a criminal background. We always felt like it was not for us to judge people.”
A lot of the tenants had trouble pronouncing “Marwan,” wanting to say “marijuana” instead. To make it easy, Marwan would say, “Just call me ‘Mike.’”
Marwan was checking on some of his apartments at Wendover Manor Apartments in Greensboro on April 16, 2013 when he was shot in the head. Karen said she would prefer not to discuss the circumstances of her husband’s murder.
A witness at the scene identified the suspect as a resident of one of the apartments, according to a search warrant filed by Detective TE Vaughan. Using a photographic lineup, the police identified the suspect as 26-year-old Curtis Leon Abney, a low-level drug dealer who has served time in prison for drug possession, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Karen had talked to her husband only 10 minutes before the shooting took place.
“I think the worst thing about it is there’s no goodbye,” she said.
Marwan had been planning to visit his parents in Palestine early that May.
“He was a family man,” Karen said. “He took care of his family. He had a mother and a father in a different country that didn’t get to see him. He’ll never get to see his daughters graduate from high school. We only have one son, and he’ll never get to see him grow up.”
Karen shipped her husband’s body to Palestine.
“For me and the kids, he’s here with us,” she said. “His mother and father needed to see him, and his sisters and his aunts and uncles needed to see him.”
The suspect isn’t cooperating with the authorities, and Karen expects the case to go to trial. She credits the victims’ advocates in the Guilford County District Attorney’s office for their compassion. They take care not to schedule court dates on birthdays and anniversaries — any time that might exacerbate her grief. They typically call her the day before a bond hearing, so she won’t have to deal with the anxiety of thinking about the ordeal for weeks in advance.
Karen said her children — two daughters who are 16 and 13, and a son who is 9 — are fearful because of their father’s murder, and the fact that they don’t understand why it happened.
“They don’t come to the bail hearings,” Karen said. “They say, ‘What happened?’ I say, ‘He’s not coming out.’ It’s like an ease comes over them.”
Karen and the children have all received grief counseling. The children participate in a program called Kids Path.
“They help them through a lot of things,” Karen said. “They have a craft room. They took something of his — a shirt, a sweater — and they made a bear. ‘This is his, and this can always stay with me.’ They have an angry room with padding if they have to take out their anger.’”
The police have thoroughly investigated the crime and identified the right suspect, Karen said.
“They’re there to help you,” she said. “It’s not for the pay. They’re doing their job. They’re putting their life on the line to help you.”
Losing her husband has required Karen to become more hands-on with repairs. She has also had to adjust her approach to parenting.
“Women and men always think, ‘I can do this by myself,’ but when there’s another body in the house, one is softer and the other is tougher. So you have to play both roles.”
Some days are easier than others.
“I have kids to take care of,” Karen said. “If it was just me I’d probably be inside the house looking at the wall.
“He’ll always be with us,” she said, pausing as tears welled in her eyes. “You want to try to keep that going, somehow, to make him proud.”