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The Berkeley Daily Planet
By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday April 15, 2008
A 31-year-old Berkeley mother has been charged with murdering her 9-year-old son.
Misti Mina Hassan was already in custody on a mandatory psychiatric suicide watch at Highland Hospital, where she was formally arrested Friday.
According to Berkeley Police spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, Hassan told a friend she had “killed her son with Klonopin.”
Manufactured by Roche Pharmaceuticals, Klonopin is the trademarked name for the compound known generically as clonazepam, which is usually prescribed for treatment of panic disorder and seizures. The drug functions as a central nervous system depressant, according to dispensing information provided to physicians by Roche.
Celia Underwood, who lives in an apartment in the same building and who has been maintaining a curbside vigil at the shrine on the sidewalk out front, said Hassan told neighbors she was also taking Effexor, an anti-depressant.
Underwood said the murder and suicide attempt followed a boyfriend’s decision to break off a five-year relationship with Hassan. “He came Tuesday and wasn’t here very long,” she said.
The man’s spouse told apartment house residents of the relationship when she came by the building over the weekend to bring flowers for the shrine, Underwood said.
Police arrived at Hassan’s apartment at the rear of 3011 Shattuck at 9:18 a.m. Wednesday to find her bleeding from the neck, arms and wrists.
The body of her son, Amir, was found clad in pajamas on a bed in the front roomhis body unmarked.
An autopsy by the Alameda County Coroner’s officer determined the boy had died 18 to 36 hours before police arrived.
In a prepared statement Friday, Sgt. Kusmiss said that the cause of death has yet to be formally determined pending the completion of toxicology tests.
“There is probable cause to believe that young Amir died at the hands of his mother,” said Sgt. Kusmiss in the statement. “Detectives have based the arrest on Ms. Hassan’s statements to witnesses, Berkeley Fire Department rescue personnel, as well as statements provided by Ms. Hassan to BPD Homicide detectives during interviews in recent days.”
Other self-incriminating evidence surfaced after investigators examined the suspect’s writings which they had recovered during a search of the home.
“Content of the writing is also consistent with the crime scene as detectives found it,” Sgt. Kusmiss said.
One Berkeley Police investigator arrived at the scene late Friday morning to search Hassan’s car, which was parked across the street.
The investigator ordered a camera-carrying reporter to leave, threatening to close the sidewalk with crime scene tape if he didn’t comply. Other pedestrians were walking by without similar admonitions.
The sidewalk shrine outside the apartment building continued to grow Monday, with friends, neighbors and others offering a poignant profusion of flowers, cards, books, toys and photos in honor of the slain youth.
“Hello, hows heaven is god real or fake,” begins a letter from a classmate. “you should really see are school library its full of note, Photos, Pictures.”
Students have decorated the library to honor their fallen schoolmate.
Among the offerings on the Shattuck Avenue sidewalk were a wide-ranging assortment of stuffed animals and countless candles including glass containers commemorating Catholic saints and one in a Hebrew-lettered metal container.
Cards, letters and drawings adorn the fence, along with a small flock of yellow rubber duckies. Among the more somber offerings was a copy of Night, the memoir by Elie Wiesel, describing his teenage experiences in a Nazi concentration camp.
Underwood has maintained a continuing vigil from a chair at the end of the sidewalk, talking with passers-by like Steffon White, a Fifth Street resident who works in the area.
“Something like this is always tragic,” said White. “If you have young children, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could do this.”
“She wanted to go back to graduate school,” said Underwood. “But then her boyfriend came over Tuesday night to break it off.”
Late Monday morning, friends were helping her erect a large blue plastic tarp above the shrine to protect it from the rains which have sprinkled the Bay Area in recent days.
Neighbors hope the skies are clear Sunday, when they will hold a pot luck barbecue in the back yard behind the apartment building from noon until dusk.
Malong Pendar, who owns the Taste of Africa restaurant next door, is helping with the preparations.