By Laura Arenschield
(The Columbus Dispatch) Dinkisra Mengistu ’s life started in Ethiopia but continued in the United States after his family emigrated when he was in middle school. It ended in a Columbus hotel’s parking lot early yesterday in a flurry of gunshots.
Mengistu, 19, had just climbed into the back seat of a friend’s car after leaving a party at the Sheraton Suites Columbus on Hutchinson Avenue on the Far North Side. A black SUV pulled up behind the car, and shots were fired through the back window. It was about 12:30 a.m.
“They were trying to kill,” said Brandon Mix, 18, who was in the car with Mengistu and was one of his best friends.
Two of the shots hit Mengistu in the head. No one else was struck.
Mix saw the SUV swerve head-on into traffic near the hotel, then speed away.
Police said yesterday they have no suspects.
About 80 of Mengistu’s friends gathered last night behind Westerville South High School for a vigil for the 2012 graduate.
Jayshon Jackson, 20, who organized the vigil, remembered Mengistu as a funny and engaging friend.
“He didn’t deserve this,” Jackson said.
Mengistu, who lived on the Northeast Side, had a few brushes with the law; he’d been convicted of possessing drug paraphernalia and misdemeanor drug abuse. He was waiting to be sentenced in Licking County on charges that he had driven while intoxicated. It was his second OVI charge.
“He didn’t sell any drugs; he didn’t do any of that,” Mix said. “He had that ‘I kinda do what I want’ mentality, but not in a bad way.”
Mengistu also was taking classes at Columbus State Community College.
Mengistu didn’t know what he wanted to be when he finished school, said another friend, Brennan Witt, who went to Westerville South and Columbus State with him. He knew only that he wanted to make enough money to buy his parents and his sisters nice houses and take his friends on a trip around the world.
Everyone who met Mengistu liked him, Witt said yesterday. He was the youngest in his family, and the only boy. He liked to smoke marijuana and flirt with pretty girls. He went by the nickname “ Dink.”
“He was always laughing,” Witt said. “I’ve never met anybody in my life like Dink.”
Mix said he doesn’t know why the people in the SUV behind them started shooting.
Mix, Mengistu and their friends had been at the party for about 11/2 hours when three or four young men came in, Mix said. They didn’t stay long, but they stared at Mengistu and his friends. Two looked familiar to Mix, but he said he doesn’t know why they would have a problem with him or his friends.
When Mix and his friends went into the hallway, they saw the other group waiting by an elevator. The two groups rode down together in silence, and Mix and his friends left first for the parking lot.
Mengistu and Mix ended up in the car’s back seat, and the driver started to pull out of the lot.
The shooting happened fast, but Mix remembers this:
Three gunshots, loud: Pop. Pop. Pop.
Window glass shattering.
Diving for cover.
Mengistu’s body slumping sideways in the backseat.
“I see blood everywhere,” Mix said. “I really just lost my best friend. I watched it in front of my face.”
Dispatch Reporter Jim Woods contributed to this story.