Shooting victim was student leader, Española city official - Albuquerque Journal

Shooting victim was student leader, Española city official

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was shot and killed less than a block from his home on Cornell, south of Coal SE Monday night. (Courtesy of Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain)

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had lived in a two-story apartment complex a couple of blocks south of the University of New Mexico for the past four years.

The Pakistan native moved to the United States in 2017 to get a master’s degree in community and regional planning at UNM and while there served as president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association from 2019 to 2020.

By all accounts the 27-year-old was a passionate leader and a dedicated community organizer who worked with Melanie Stansbury’s campaign for Congress and then got a job as the planning and land use director for the city of Española. For the past year he had been commuting — nearly a 90-minute drive each way — but he was on the cusp of moving to the northern New Mexico city.

On Monday around 9:20 p.m., Muhammad Afzaal was shot to death less than a block from his home on the 400 block of Cornell, south of Coal SE.

His older brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, told the Journal that neighbors recounted seeing a car pull up alongside Muhammad Afzaal as someone inside opened fire — shooting once, and then between four and six more times.

“My brother — he was such a decent, lively young man, an unmarried person involved with the community, all the time helping everyone,” Muhammad Imtiaz said. “So what is the motive. Why did they shoot him? If he’s shot, how are we safe?”

An Albuquerque Police Department spokeswoman confirmed that Muhammad Afzaal was killed but said she could not provide any other details about the crime.

Late Wednesday night, APD announced its leaders, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the FBI will meet with members of the Muslim community Thursday morning to “discuss recent violent crime.” A news conference will be held afterward.

A tragic evening

Muhammad Imtiaz, who had been a prosecutor in Pakistan before moving to the U.S. in 2014 to continue studying law, said Monday evening started just like any other.

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, with his brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain. The brothers are from Pakistan and moved to Albuquerque several years ago. (Courtesy of Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain)

Muhammad Imtiaz had been staying with his brother — younger than him by 12 years — and that night Muhammad Afzaal took care of his two children, 12 and 8 years old, until he got home. Shortly before 9 p.m. as Muhammad Imtiaz made dinner his brother stepped outside, most likely to talk on the phone with family back in Pakistan — where it would have already been morning — or with friends. At some point Muhammad Imtiaz saw police lights flashing outside, but he didn’t start to worry until several hours passed and Muhammad Afzaal still hadn’t returned. He called the police and told them his brother was missing.

That’s when they told him Muhammad Afzaal had been killed.

Muhammad Imtiaz spent the next morning talking to neighbors and the detectives trying to figure out what happened.

The brothers were the youngest of five siblings. Muhammad Imtiaz said it took him a full day to get up the courage to tell family members back home what happened. He dreaded talking to his father about it.

“I want a proactive, rigorous investigation, detailed and speedy trials so that those people who want to take life for another person for nothing … maybe they were stealing his phone, I don’t know, whatever,” Muhammad Imtiaz said. “But this is life and many lives are connected to him.”

Community in mourning

Muhammad Afzaal’s one year anniversary working for the city of Española would have been Tuesday.

That morning when he didn’t show up for work his colleagues called and texted him.

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27 (Source: City of Española)

Then the mayor heard from Muhammad Imtiaz about the shooting.

In a news release, Mayor John Ramon Vigil said APD is still investigating but “it appears Muhammad was randomly targeted in a senseless act of violence.”

Jordan Yutzy, the Española city manager, said Muhammad Afzaal was supposed to move into a city-owned house this weekend and had already started moving in some furniture.

“He is going to be truly missed by the city,” Yutzy said. “He was very smart, very dedicated, and really cared about the community as a whole. His will be very big shoes for the city to fill.”

Javier Sánchez, the former mayor of Española, said Muhammad Afzaal was hired during his administration and his death is a sign that violent crime in the state has reached “unprecedented levels and is out of control.”

“And yet perhaps the solutions lay in what Muhammad tried to do for the City of Española — create greater opportunities for more of our citizens and visitors. He fought hard to create the housing developments that we require and the parks and open spaces that bring us together …,” Sánchez wrote in a statement. “Through his lens of city planning, Muhammad tried to find the answers to human fragility, loneliness and eventually crime.”

Muhammad Afzaal had studied law and human resource management at the University of Punjab before moving to Albuquerque to attend graduate school. At UNM he was very active with the international student community.

In a statement, the university said it was “deeply saddened to hear about the tragic and sudden loss of a cherished alumni” who “was a prominent student leader and vibrant human being.”

“Muhammad was an inspiring leader and a really special Lobo who touched so many lives,” UNM President Garnett Stokes said. “It was my privilege to know and work with him.”

In a statement Stansbury, now a U.S. representative, said Muhammad Afzaal worked as a field organizer for her campaign. She said he “inspired countless people with his compassion and dedication to working in partnership with our communities” and was “one of the kindest and hardest-working people I have ever known.”

“His contributions to our communities stretch beyond what we can say here,” Stansbury said. “As a dedicated urban planner for Española, he was committed to making our public spaces work for every person and cleaning up legacy pollution. Our team was privileged every day to witness firsthand Muhammad’s passion for lifting up the voices of our community members and celebrating their contributions, accomplishments, and dreams.”

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