Every morning, Azim Hakeem helped his father, who is in a wheelchair, to get ready for the day. He took him into the shower, made sure he got dressed and gave him his pills. At night, Azim’s younger brother, Mobeen, would help lift their father into bed and tuck him in.
“Azim does morning, Mobeen does nighttime” explains their mother, Mahjabeen Hakeem.
Now, however, the responsibility falls to Mahjabeen and her daughter, Farheen. Since the brothers were shot and killed at the family’s Evanston tobacco store three weeks ago, the Hakeem family is searching for clues to their deaths and mourning the loss of the two brothers. The blinds are drawn against TV news crews in their south Evanston home, and Farheen carries multiple keys to lock multiple doors to the front of the house.
“It’s already hard enough to grieve for the loss of my brothers, but it’s even worse to know that those killers are out there,” she says.
Police found Mobeen, 34, and Azim, 38, dead from multiple gunshot wounds in the basement of Evanston Pipe & Tobacco, 923 Davis St., around 8:20 p.m. July 30. They are continuing to investigate the crime, which police have ruled a homicide, but have released little more information so far.
“At this point, it’s a complicated case, and we just can’t divulge any further information,” Evanston Police Cmdr. Jason Parrott said Monday.
How Mahjabeen Found Her Sons
Tuesday, July 30, the day that Azim and Mobeen died, was partway through the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, a month-long period that Muslims observe by fasting. Mahjabeen was cooking samosas for the family to break the fast, and expecting her sons home between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m.
The brothers typically closed up the shop promptly at 7 p.m., then drove straight home. Mobeen, who was borderline autistic, according to Farheen, was very precise about his timing.
“They walk out the door at 7:11 because his timing is very accurate,” she said. “And it can’t be earlier, because, you know—timing.”
So when the brothers weren’t home by 7:30 that Tuesday, Mahjabeen began to worry. She called her sons, but they did not answer, so finally she got in the car and drove slowly up Chicago Avenue to the store, looking at each car as it passed her going in the opposite direction, hoping it was her sons.
“Finally I got to the store and it was dark, and the “OPEN” sign was blinking,” she said. “I thought, ‘Is something wrong with my eyes?’”
She could see that the padlock was on the door, but Mahjabeen did not have a key. In the basement, she noticed a light on, but she could not see through the curtain covering the window.
Mahjabeen drove straight to the police station, to tell them that it looked like something was wrong at the store. Then she went back to the store to wait for the police to arrive. It seemed to take forever, Mahjabeen says, and she went to Davis Pantry down the street to dial 9-11, to ask what was taking so long.
Finally, the police showed up, but they didn’t have the tools to break into the store. So Mahjabeen had to wait for the fire department to show up with a bolt-cutter to break through the padlock.
She wanted to go inside to see how her sons were doing, but the police officers asked her to sit in a squad car. When she asked what was going on, at first they would not tell her, Mahjabeen says. A social worker offered her water to drink, but all she wanted was to know whether her sons were okay.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to drink water,’” Mahjabeen recalls. “I want to know, are my sons dead or not?’…You have to tell me.”
Finally, a sergeant came over and broke the news to her that her sons had been shot and killed.
“At that time, I sat down,” Mahjabeen recalls. “I called my sister…I said, ‘Look, my boys have gone out from this world.’”
Siblings Grew Up at Evanston Pipe & Tobacco
Mahjabeen and her husband, Mohammad Abdul Hakeem, immigrated from Hyderabad, India, to Chicago, where Azim was born. The family moved to Evanston in 1975, when Mahjabeen was pregnant with Farheen. Mobeen was born three years later.
All three kids grew up in Evanston, and Azim and Farheen both graduated from Evanston Township High School. The family purchased the tobacco store, which has existed in Evanston for decades, in 1982, and the three kids grew up working in the store.
In 2000, the family purchased a house in Northbrook, then demolished that house and built a newer, bigger home. But when the economy went bad, they could no longer afford it, according to Farheen. The Hakeems short-sold the Northbrook home in April 2013, and moved back to Evanston.
Azim and Mobeen took over running the store about 10 years ago, when their father became too sick to operate the business. Meanwhile, Farheen moved away from home at 17 to go to Oberlin College, and eventually moved to Minnesota, where she works as director of membership and communications for a nonprofit that deals with student co-ops. She moved home this year to help her family move out of their Northbrook house.
Before he died, Azim was just a few credits away from finishing a bachelor’s degree in art at Northeastern Illinois University, according to Farheen. She described her brother as hardworking and simple, and said he loved watching sports on the weekends, spending time with their 21 first cousins and reading books, especially mysteries and Tom Clancy novels.
He also wrote his own stories, according to Farheen, although she wasn’t sure if he ever hoped to publish them.
Because he was autistic, Mobeen never went to college, according to Farheen. Instead of sports, his passion was history.
“He would spend hours on the Internet reading about different historical events, and then he would spend time writing,” she said.
Mobeen left behind stacks of paper on which he had written summaries of historical events. On a blank white sheet of paper, he would write line after line of perfectly spaced text without paragraph breaks, transforming the page into a field of even letters. He took his writing to the store every day, and when it wasn’t busy, he would add to the pages, Farheen says.
Mobeen memorized historical events and dates from the start of World War II through the present, according to Farheen, and if you asked him what day of the week a certain date was, he always got it right—even if it was 30 years ago.
Mobeen also enjoyed going to the mall with Farheen, where he liked to play with the computers at the Apple store, listening to oldies songs on YouTube or watching the History Channel.
“He’d always sneak out and buy candy bars and pop and bring them home,” Farheen adds.
Saleem said Mobeen was quiet, but remembered him as “very nice.”
“You have to be one sick individual to shoot my two brothers, but you have to be really, really despicable to shoot Mobeen,” Farheen said. “Because he had autism. He was harmless.”
Waiting For Answers
Three weeks after Mobeen and Hakeem were killed, police have released little information about the investigation. Initially, they classified it as a death investigation, and said in a press release there were “no indications that a robbery had taken place.”
Reached Monday, Police Cmdr. Jason Parrott said the police department was not releasing information because doing so would not help the case.
“There’s a reason why police are staying tight-lipped,” he said. “They’re trying to solve the case.”
The knowledge that police are still investigating the case doesn’t make it any easier on the Hakeem family, who are waiting for answers—and hoping their own lives are not in danger.
“We don’t even know if these killers are done yet,” Farheen says. “We don’t know if the safety of my parents, if my safety is in concern.”
She and Mahjabeen also feel the police have treated them unfairly during the investigation, by taking certain belongings, some of which are sentimental, according to Farheen.
“Every time they’ve come, I’ve let them in. Every time they’ve asked me questions, I’ve given them information,” says Farheen. “And we don’t get anything back. And we ask and we ask, and we still don’t get anything back.”
Last Sunday, Farheen says she and her mother went to the store themselves, to see if they could find any evidence. Without an answer as to who may have killed her brothers, she said, grieving their loss is that much tougher.
“Until then, we’re not at peace,” she says.