Fowsia Musse, center, is seen recently in the office of Maine Community Integration on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, where she was the executive director before being shot while visiting family in Ethiopia. She is flanked by Assistant Director Abdi Abdalla, left, and Elizabeth Haffey, interim director. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Still in agony from the bullets that ripped through her stomach and right leg less than three weeks earlier, Fowsia Musse returned to Maine from Ethiopia on an air ambulance funded largely by donations from the community where she’d lived for more than two decades.

“As I was flying to the United States, my brain all full of narcotics, I was daydreaming that I just wanted to see the U.S. flag,” said Musse, the executive director of the Lewiston-based nonprofit Maine Community Integration.

When she reached Maine Medical Center in Portland after a 20-hour flight, she had a straightforward request for the first nurse she saw: “Get me the U.S. flag.”

Two close friends — Elizabeth Haffey, the interim director at Maine Community Integration, and Abdi Abdalla, the assistant director — showed up shortly after to meet her at the hospital.

“We went over to her bed,” Haffey said, and could tell instantly that Musse was in “unimaginable, unbelievable pain.”

“So we were trying to track down the nurses, thinking ‘Oh, my God, why isn’t she getting enough pain meds?’” Haffey said. Then a nurse came in “and pins up a little American flag on the wall and I was like ‘Well, that’s nice, but can we have heavy narcotics for this woman, please?’”


The nurse responded that Musse insisted on getting the flag first.

“That’s so Fowsia. So Fowsia,” Haffey said.

“I just wanted to be on American soil,” Musse said.

That she made it here may well have saved her life.


Musse learned last summer that her mother, whom she hadn’t seen since leaving Ethiopia 27 years earlier, was getting “sicker and sicker” from cancer as the days ticked by.

Musse soon realized she had no choice: She had to go see her.


There wasn’t time to make careful plans or figure out much of anything. Musse knew that if she wanted to see her mother again, she needed to be on a plane as soon as possible to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and the only place in the country with an oncology unit.

Musse decided to bring along her two youngest children, Moby, 14, and Hawa, 8, because she wanted them to meet their grandmother, see where she’d come from and experience “the reality of life there.”

She figured a journey to “the poor Africa” would also give her son and daughter “a reason to work hard” at school in Maine because they had opportunities that few in Ethiopia and Somalia would ever have.

Musse had mixed feelings about going back after so many years.

She said she felt strongly that “something was going to happen to me if I go,” a conviction so strong that she sent pictures of her passport and other documents to her three older children on Oct. 17 just before her departure from the airport in Boston, just in case.

“I was not elated. I was not happy,” Musse said. “I just felt this intense unease. It was very unsettling.”


Arriving at the airport in Ethiopia, she said, “I was dragging my feet. The feeling I had was almost a doomsday feeling, almost like I was going to my death.”

It ran counter to her hope that when she arrived in Addis Ababa, “I’ll feel happy. I’ll feel home.”

Musse said that during her first decade in the United States, where she arrived as a refugee at about the age of 14 in 1995, she always “felt a little homesick” for the family and community she left behind.

Over time, though, that feeling faded.

Fowsia Musse recovers in a Maine hospital weeks after she was shot and severely wounded in an Ethiopian airport. She remained in hospitals for three-and-a-half months before returning home to Auburn. Submitted photo

Musse said she had long “had this nagging voice in my head” telling her to go back, but she thought it best “to raise my children first.”

So that’s what she did.


When Musse and her two youngest children arrived in Ethiopia in the wee hours of Oct. 18, the airport struck her as eerie, dingy and dark. The few people there, she said, treated her “almost like a foreigner.”

In short, it did not feel anything like home.

But seeing her mother again did. They hugged. They cried. They talked.

They both knew the long-delayed meeting would likely be their last.


One of Musse’s younger sisters,  Juweriya Subcis, a regional parliamentarian well-known for her charitable work in the Somali Regional State in eastern Ethiopia, got airline tickets for the family to join her in Jigjiga, where their ailing father lived.

Musse was excited to see Subcis again, too. She had visited Auburn a couple months earlier, during a U.S.-sponsored trip for African leaders.


Musse said they planned to spend about a week in Jigjiga — the last place she’d lived before flying off to a new life in the United States.

They boarded the Ethiopian Airlines jet in the capital at lunchtime and flew a little more than an hour to Wilwal International Airport in Jigjiga.

“Everything went without a problem,” Musse said.

At the airport, though, a federal police officer opened fire, killing Subcis, badly wounding Musse and injuring at least four others at the scene.

Hit by two shots to her stomach and two more that shredded her lower leg, Musse collapsed on the concrete beside the metal and glass doors leading from the terminal to a parking lot.

“When I hit the ground, I thought, ‘Well, this it,’” Musse said.


Even so, as rescuers raced her to the local hospital in the back of a pickup truck, Musse didn’t realize how bad her wounds were.

They took her to the local hospital, where medical personnel wrapped her wounds with a type of plastic. They gave her brother a prescription so he could run to a nearby pharmacy and get morphine for her, which they administered through a drip line.

Abdirizak Dahir Budul Gaaruun, a friend of Musse’s slain sister who lives in Minneapolis, said the Jigjiga hospital couldn’t begin to handle someone with the injuries Musse had suffered.

Regional government officials hovered around her room constantly, Musse said, including the governor.

“I was extremely alert, talking all the time, bleeding at the same time,” Musse said.

Gaaruun said he and others “were yelling and screaming” at the governor that he needed to get her on a plane to a more suitable hospital. Officials, though, did not see the urgency.


It took 48 hours before they put Musse on a plane to the capital.


The driver who met her at the airport in Addis Ababa brought her to a hospital that she described as horrible, sharing a room with someone who had COVID-19 and another patient with tuberculosis.

She arrived there in the evening on Oct. 29 and for the first 24 hours, she said, “not even a single nurse saw me.”

They just left her on a mattress on the ground, bleeding, as her leg grew ever larger because of a raging infection, she said.

“And I could smell something was not working,” Musse said. “I could not move anything.”

Abdirizak Dahir Budul Gaaruun visits Fowsia Musse of Lewiston in a Maine hospital as she recovers from wounds she received during an Oct. 25, 2022, shooting spree at an Ethiopian airport. Gaaruun was a close friend of Musse’s sister, who died during the mayhem at the airport in Jigjiga. Submitted photo

Finally, nurses came who brought a bucket of water and a towel and began wiping the blood off of her, Musse said.


Fortunately, she said, one of her daughters back in the United States managed to make phone calls and get Musse transferred to the private Norwegian-run Nordic Medical Centre in Addis Ababa that had up-to-date medical care.

Immediately on her arrival at the modern hospital on the night of Oct. 30, she said, a doctor took an MRI to assess her condition.

He said she had to go into surgery immediately because of the infection.

“You don’t have a lot of time,” the doctor told her. He said they would have to amputate her leg or gangrene might kill her.

Musse said she had a few minutes to mull over her situation.

“You know what?” she told the doctor. “Let’s cut this leg.”


He cut off her right leg just below her knee, but the infection spread further. Ultimately, Musse lost almost her entire right leg during two subsequent operations.

“It made us sick to our stomach” to see the advancing gangrene, Gaaruun said. “I never thought she was going to make it.”

Musse stayed there, slipping in and out of a coma, Gaaruun said, until she got a medical flight back to Maine made possible by donations of more than $142,000 to a GoFundMe drive.

That Nov. 13 flight almost certainly saved her life, he said, because Musse needed advanced care only available in America.

“Thank God for U.S. medicine,” Gaaruun said. “Thank God for the U.S. government. And thank God for the Maine community” that rallied to help make Musse’s flight possible.

Musse saw her mother one last time from her hospital bed, where both her parents visited as she lay in bed.


They were each in wheelchairs at the time.

“I was just holding their hands,” she said.

Three days after Musse’s departure for Maine, her mother died.


Musse spent two-and-a-half months at hospitals in Portland and Lewiston before she could return to her home in Auburn.

It gave her a lot of time to think.

“Leaving the United States for the first time in 27 years and coming back, I felt like this whole time I was home,” she said, tears flowing.


For so long, she said, she’d thought of Maine as a sort of “so-called home” and felt “a little bit of emptiness” because she was so far from where she began her journey.

Her childhood, Musse, had been “robbed from me” by mayhem.

“I have so much fear, all my life,” she said. She never entered a theater without thinking of how she could get out of it. “I constantly think about danger.”

She said she “worked very hard on myself” during her 27 years in America, getting therapy to help overcome depression and the post-traumatic stress of warfare and a refugee childhood.

Fowsia Musse, middle left, stands last September in her kitchen in Auburn with her children, Hawa, 8, and Moby, 14, and her sister, Juweriya Subcis, right, before Subcis returned to Ethiopia after an extended visit to the United States. Submitted photo

For much of her life, she said, “I was working toward personal autonomy” and she doesn’t want to slip backward.

“I am determined not to collapse, not to relapse after all the work I’ve done,” she said. “I’m working on faith, forgiveness, something, I don’t know.”

“The ironic part of my entire story is I left the exact airport fleeing from danger only to go back to that same airport 27 years later as an adult woman, only to come out of there with only one leg. I was meant to lose one limb,” Musse said. “I owed a leg to Africa.”

Now consigned to a wheelchair — she proudly proclaimed she had “pimped my ride” recently by getting a pink one — Musse said she expects to get involved with Maine’s disabled community.

“I need to join a new group, a wheelchair group,” she said. “I bet they don’t have a New Mainer.”

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