RENI: I woke up at 5 o’clock in the morning and that was May 22nd. First thing I did when I woke up was look at my phone and there was not a single message not a missed call from him, nothing absolutely nothing.
I call him. I expected him to answer the phone and curse me out because it’s 5 oclock in the morning and I had just woke him up.
I call him a second time on the phone, he still did not answer the phone.
NARRATOR: This is a story about a young immigrant named Reniya, or Reni, moving to the US as a teenager, feeling alone and keeping to herself only to then find love and marry a man who she found to be a true companion…but what would happen to them would be a national tragedy involving one of the biggest news stories of the year and involving mysterious circumstances and the FBI.
She spoke with us from Russia.
The story really starts when she was a teenager, living in Russia, happy with her school, friends. Until her mother told her that they were moving to America. It would be just Reni, her younger brother and her mom. The move was hard for her.
RENI: I was a teenager and it was hard for me to move to some different place where I have no friends
I did not pack my stuff, I was so mad at my mom that she was taking me away from my friends, from my school, from the place I grew up pretty much.
I was just so sad. For the first couple of months I was just sad.
NARRATOR: They landed in Atlanta, Georgia in May and lived with a family friend for a few months and then rented out a basement in someone’s home. Reni’s mom would work as a hostess in a Marriott hotel restaurant and after the summer break Reni and her younger brother started school. The adjustment was hard for her in school and she wouldn’t make any friends and kept to herself.
RENI: I was just staying away from people who are going to the same classes. For me it was just school, I just wanted to pass the classes and take all the tests and get my diploma and start college.
Uh the people, were just ignoring me. Just like I’m not there.
I would look at the other people weird because I don’t understand what they are talking about. Not at all. The teachers, the kids in there. I would just sit quiet.
NARRATOR: Reni’s mom would get a job with the army and have to move to Texas for training but reni and her brother stayed in Atlanta. She would send the money for Reni and her brother, and Reni supplemented the income by working as a cashier in the grocery store making about $70 a week.
RENI: It was hard in the beginning that she’s not there. I had to take care of my brother, he was going to the soccer games, I would have to drive him different places, different cities, but I already that grown time that I had to understand that I had to help my mom
NARRATOR: Six months later, Reni’s mom would then be placed in South Carolina as an army pharmacist and she would take Reni’s younger brother with her. Reni had wanted to stay back in Atlanta to try to pass her exams to receive her high school diploma so she could attend college. She would be unable to pass the exam several times because of her beginning English skills. After a few years, she would stop trying to take the exam and could not apply for college.
Reni would start working in an Avon cosmetics warehouse…but one trip to visit some friends in New York would change everything.
RENI: We had a mutual friend. That guy he was from the same city in Russia that I was grown up in, so I knew that he was in Boston he said just come by. so it end up that I was driving to Boston to see him. and Ibrahim was his roommate at that time. That’s how I met Ibrahim, through his mutual friend.
NARRATOR: That was Ibrahim Todashev, the man who was fatally and mysteriously shot by the FBI on May 21st.
RENI: I did not really like him in the beginning I would say but I still gave him my phone number. I guess I kind of liked him. he said well here is my number if you change your mind one day you can call me or text me. So he texted me, he gave me his number and we are sitting in the same room where I believe we were watching tv and I text him in the same room like hey this is my number but don’t bother me for no reason. He just looked at me and was like ok. That was just, I don’t know, a few words that we actually had. Like a few words in conversation. And that’s it.
Then I went to sleep in his room and the 2 guys slept in the other room. We were texted each other throughout the whole night. Just simple questions how long have you been here what are you doing here
When I went back to Atlanta we were still talking to each other, texting to each other, being on the phone, And then my birthday was in June and that’s when he said well I’m going to come by for your birthday and I was like ok
So he actually stayed in Atlanta for a couple of days he actually brought me a heart necklace for my birthday. I still have that one me.
He went back to Boston
He invited me in July there. And when I came there he actually asked me to marry him there in July.
He was just like, let’s get married and I was like yah right seriously? And he was like yah. He called to a guy there was a mosque near to him where he lived. ‘Til the last moment I was thinking he was just kidding with me. He was serious, He said let’s get married. I was like ok. And we did.
NARRATOR: Reni and Ibrahim would move in together in a one bedroom apartment in Atlanta. Ibrahim was training for the MMA mixed martial arts professional fights while Reni was supporting both of them in her job.
They would find a companionship in each other living alone and as immigrants to this country.
RENI: He did not have anybody in this country, no one, not even any close aunts, uncles no one.
He showed me that the time I could be happy. I was happy with him. There was a serious moments there was a silly moments there was a fighting moments, by fighting I mean just arguments. but I knew the main part that he loves me
NARRATOR: Reni would also really invest in getting to know his mom and family back in Chechnya by phone.
RENI: I wanted her ok that she wants us to be together, I wanted her to know me. I just want to make sure that his mom is ok with everything that happens with her son. if I had any problems with Ibrahim, even little fights or miscommunication or anything, I would call his mom and tell him everything, So I was in a great relationship with his mom.
NARRATOR: Ibrahim would travel to Boston for extend periods of time as part of his training at gyms and to compete. Reni would visit him in Boston often as well. After about a year Reni and Ibrahim would move to Florida. Reni would continue to support both of them working in hospitality. Ibrahim would continue his training.
A year or so later, both Reni and Ibrahim had decided to spend some time apart.
RENI: We decided that we are going to separate for a little bit ‘til we figure out what we going to do, how we gonna be in the future. I wanted to have a family he wanted to be in his sports career. So he was not willing to have family at moment, and I was. So I was mad because of only that. and I told him lets just split for a little bit and we gonna see what we are going to do. I move back to Atlanta.
NARRATOR: Reni had booked a ticket to go to Russia for her cousins wedding on April 16th, 2013. Coincidentally, it would end up being the day after the Boston Marathon bombing.
RENI: When I flew out from America that time no one really pronounced the names, who did it so when I was here in Russia I didn’t want to hear anything, I’m here right now with my family who I see once a year I don’t want to care about anyone else whatever happens anywhere in the world.
We were still communicating and he knew that I was going back home and he told me that I need to come back because he misses me.
I came back on May first and I had a transit in NY so my plane was Moscow, NY, Atlanta and in NY the passport control, at that time I am already an American citizen, I already have a passport, they had took me to the waiting room.
That’s when the immigration guy from another room came out and told me to go with him, we went to the room then 2 people walked in there, They did not introduce themselves. So they start asking me questions, where I was, how long I was there, who I have seen there, the addresses with the information what I was doing in there. They were asking me for 20 minutes writing down, they took my phone, cameras, they asked me if I know Tsarnaev brothers. And I really didn’t, I heard Tamerlan name from Ibrahim a few times when Ibrahim was with me, I knew there was a Chechen guy who goes to the gym when he was living back in Boston. And I said no I don’t then they asked me his wife’s name and they asked me random questions who do I know from Boston.
They asked me who is Ibrahim Todashiv and that’s when I said that’s my husband and that’s when they started asking me where I met him where was last time I saw him and that’s when I thought something happened,
I called Ibrahim right away and I asked him what happened and he said well this is what happened whatever they told you that is what happened, he told me don’t be scared just say whatever you know.
NARRATOR: Ibrahim had made plans to go back to visit his family in Chechnya on May 24th, it would be his first trip after 5 years. He would come to visit Reni a few times before he was planning on leaving.
RENI: When he came in May 9 he told me that I already knew he got his green card in February and he had knee surgery in march so he was waiting ’til his knee got better so he can get home he hadn’t seen his parents in 5 years. He got his ticket for may 24 and that’s when he said after I come back maybe a month or so then we are going to get back together again either in Atlanta or in Orlando.
NARRATOR: The FBI would continue to visit Reni at her work or home asking the same questions about Tamerlan, if she knows anything about the bombing and what she thinks about the bombing. On May 21st around 7 pm the FBI had come to Reni’s work again to question her. They let her know that Ibrahim was being interviewed at around the same time.
RENI: I had called Ibrahim to tell him that they are coming to me again. He did not answer the phone, which was weird to me. I knew that he was interviewed before that they were following him that they were always on his tail. But every time when he was interviewed, he would text me back that the could not talk he would do something. But when I called him he did not answer.
So they showed me 3 pictures, 3 guys 3 Chechen guys 2 were new that I did not knew. There were still asking me about Tamerlan the bombing, again repeating the questions about what they asked me before, what I think what I feel, and that’s when the agent blew up on me they would say so you think this is ok to kill people, they were just pretty much harassing me, they were pulling the words out of my mouth that I did not say,
NARRATOR: The FBI stayed for a few hours questioning Reni that night. when they left she called Ibrahim several times and texted him, but he did not answer or return any of her texts. She assumed the FBI was still questioning him. She fell asleep around 10pm. The next morning she woke up around 5, waited for him to pick up, got ready for work and noticed a few black SUVs parked outside her house. She thought it was a little odd but continued to work anyway.
RENI: I came to work at 7. First thing at 7:46, I remember that time because I took a picture of the phone and that was the timing shown, that an email came to my phone and there is a few videos on YouTube where the Ibrahim competition fights and those videos had been there forever like a year and nobody ever commented his video and the comment was:
NARRATOR: The previous manager where I used to work he texted me, how are you doing. And he said have you watched the news, he said have you opened the newspapers. He said will there is Ibrahim was shot and killed by the FBI in Orlando. That’s when I felt empty, cold inside. When I grabbed the newspaper I did not have any tears in my eyes but everything was blurry, I couldn’t see the letters. I couldn’t read anything.
RENI: I had to call Ibrahim’s mom. I call her she answered the phone with a happy voice, she said, “Hi, Reni, How are you?” And I heard her smiling being in a good mood and I felt that she didn’t know anything. I was calling her mom and I was saying, mom and she said, “Reni, what happened why are you crying?”, and I said, “Mom, they killed him. He’s gone.” She asked me, how is that accurate, why it happened, where it happened, why it happened. She just throw those questions and I didn’t, I said, “Mom, that’s for sure and I can’t tell you anything more. I don’t know anything.” She said, “I can’t talk to you right now.” And she hanged up.
The FBI came 10 minutes after. And I was sitting outside I was crying and FBI would tell me they have to talk to me and I said well I don’t want to talk to you.
They start telling me how it happened they said Ibrahim was there with the agents, he was violent and aggressive that’s why they shot him. That’s what I start asking them is there are no other ways to stop another person to be violent.
When I came to Orlando it was evening of the 22nd and on the 23rd in the morning that’s when I went to medical examiner. And I asked him how many shots went in there he told me 7. That number killed me. And I asked him to see the body, he asked me if I’m sure if I’ll be ok, I said yah I’ll be ok. Ibrahim was there laid on that bed and he was covered up to his neck with a sheet. His eyes were still opened and there was a blurry grey color and I could see his tears his eyes were full of tears, his mouth was still open halfway and you know when you feel the pain your muscles on your cheeks are under pressure and that’s when I looked at him it felt like he was putting his teeth together. And my eyes were full of tears I couldn’t see him clearly anymore. I was just looking at him maybe hoping that he would get up. Now I know for sure that this is him he is gone.
NARRATOR: Reni would go to his home in Orlando to pack his things
RENI: As I told you he was supposed to go home on the 24th and he bought some presents for his brothers, for his sister, he had 11 siblings so he purchased a lot of stuff for them so I had to pack stuff for them.
NARRATOR: They wanted to bury him in his home in Chechnya. She would fly out with the body on June 18th.
RENI: There was a lot of problems with the papers, document, the FBI would not release his passport, his drivers license, finally we get to June 18 and we flew back here to Russia and we got here on the 19th and we get to Moscow and June 20th in the morning we had a flight to Grozny, Chechnya that’s where he was originally from, that’s where he was born. So we took the casket down there. They bury him on June 20th little bit afternoon. Her reaction [his mother’s] to the casket, knowing that Ibrahim was in there, it took her a while to understand that Ibrahim is in the casket that he’s’ about to be buried in a couple of hours, she was full of tears, no one could understand what really happened.
NARRATOR: There are still questions that remain about Ibrahim’s death. But for Reni, the stress was too much for her and she remains shaken up by what happened. The FBI had told her that right before he was shot he signed a confession regarding Tamerlan’s involvement in that triple murder in Waltham but she has asked the FBI to show her his hand written confession and they haven’t yet. She would move back to Russia a few months later and is there now. Despite some confusion about his relationship with another woman in the period that they were separated, Reni had remained focused on Ibrahim and her getting back together and she believes he felt the same way. Reni has visited Ibrahim’s mother several times after the burial and she remains in touch with her and his family. She says she has contact with the FBI only occasionally now, and continues to ask for some of Ibrahim’s possessions that the FBI has still not released. She says she still has many questions that have gone unanswered.
Listen to the story here!