Family of murdered Orland business owner grapples with mystery
BY MIKE NOLAN email@example.com July 16, 2012 8:38PM
Riyad Damra talks about running the business of his friend, Ibrahim Nofal, who was abducted and murder a year ago at Lightning Auto in Orland Park, Illinois, Thursday, July 12, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Police seek help
Police investigating the murder of Ibrahim Nofal are asking that anyone with information call the Joliet police department, (815) 724-3020, or Will County Crime Stoppers, (800) 323-6734.
Updated: August 18, 2012 6:04AM
Taking a break from working on a BMW in an Orland Park auto repair shop, Riyad Damra talks about friends who’ve met violent deaths.
One was shot and killed driving a cab. Another died the same way while working at a neighborhood grocery store in Chicago.
The 43-year-old Worth man recalled his own brush with death when, while he was working at a grocery/liquor store in Chicago, a robber commanded him to lie down on the floor then held a gun just inches from the back of his head.
“Everything just went black,” he said.
Damra doesn’t believe anybody was ever charged in that holdup or the shooting deaths and wonders if the same will happen in the murder of his close friend, Ibrahim Nofal.
On July 13, 2010, police believe, the 28-year-old father of two was abducted from his Orland Park auto repair business, Lightning Auto. Four days later, the body of the Lockport man was discovered in Joliet’s Pilcher Park, dead from a single stab wound to the back of his neck.
Police said that leads in the case haven’t turned up any strong suspects, and footage from a surveillance camera is of too poor a quality to aid police. A hot line the family established to solicit tips early on in the case has been disconnected, although $50,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Nofal’s murderer or murderers still is being offered.
“It kind of went cold,” Mohammed Nofal, a cousin of Ibrahim’s, said of the tip line.
“The family is still praying,” the Lockport man said. “Hopefully, God will bring these individuals to justice.”
A passion for working on cars
Damra and Nofal had been friends for years, both fixing cars but at opposite ends of the Chicago metro area.
Damra was working at a Mercedes-Benz dealership near O’Hare Airport, and Nofal persuaded him to open his own shop in Orland Park. Damra, whose forte is electrical systems, opened 4 Tech Complete Auto Repair next door to Lightning, in a section of Orland Park dotted with car repair shops.
Mohammed Nofal said his cousin had a passion for working on cars and was known for his mechanical skills.
“He wanted the American dream, having his own business, and he had two beautiful little kids,” he said.
Damra said he would drop by Nofal’s shop to lend his expertise and they would hang out after work, sometimes until midnight or later, talking “about shop, life, families.”
“We got close,” Damra, who has three children, said.
Damra said he continues to operate Lightning Auto on the family’s behalf, sending what money he can each month to them. He said the shop isn’t terribly profitable, and the fact it’s not on a busy street doesn’t help.
He’s considered opening a repair business in a higher-profile location but worries that if he did, Nofal’s family wouldn’t take any money he offered.
“Let me try to stay here,” he said. “I want to help his kids.”
Police say case ‘has grown cold’
The day of Nofal’s disappearance, Damra was leaving about 4 p.m. and encouraged Nofal to call it a day. Nofal said he had to replace an alternator in a Chevrolet Suburban.
A little more than two hours after Damra left, video from a surveillance camera shows, a light-colored Jeep Grand Cherokee with a luggage rack pulled up to the shop and at least two men got out and walked into the garage. They returned to the Jeep and pulled it into the garage, then the vehicle left a short time later. Police believe Nofal was inside.
Damra said Ibrahim was teaching his older brother, Mohammed, about fixing cars. Mohammed owns a tobacco shop in Joliet but made daily visits to Lightning Auto. He was the person who called Orland Park police at 1 a.m. on July 14 after being unable to contact his brother and finding the shop’s overhead garage door open.
Police employed the help of federal law enforcement to analyze the surveillance video, hoping for some piece of information that would help solve the mystery, but nothing useful could be extracted. Joliet police, the lead agency investigating the murder, said that while Ibrahim Nofal’s death remains an active case, a lack of solid information hinders efforts.
“The case at this point has grown cold,” Cmdr. Brian Benton said. “As time progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to investigate without new information.”
Family, friends grapple
Nofal’s family and friends don’t believe he was involved in anything illegal, and Mohammed Nofal said there was no indication that what took place was part of a robbery. Car keys for vehicles awaiting repairs were untouched, and Ibrahim Nofal’s own vehicle was left behind, his cousin said.
“There’s no history of him (Ibrahim) committing any kind of crime, being involved in any kind of illegal activity,” Mohammed Nofal said.
Damra, too, is convinced his friend wasn’t involved in something nefarious.
“The guy doesn’t have nothing to do with drugs,” he said, insistent.
His worst vice was smoking cigarettes, having given up drinking when he got married, and he was completely focused on his family, his friend said.
“Here (the shop) to home, home to here,” Damra said. “That’s it.”
Was it a case of mistaken identity? Mohammed Nofal wonders. Did one of the vehicles Ibrahim was working on have a stash of drugs in it and he didn’t know? Damra asks.
“It’s gotta be something to make these people come here and take him,” he said.
Not knowing why the young father met an untimely death is agonizing for Nofal’s family, his cousin said.
“We don’t know why” he was killed, Mohammed Nofal said. “That’s what keeps us all up at night.”