On this week’s episode of the StoryCorps podcast, how two families came together in tragedy and forgiveness.

On January 21, 1995, 20-year-old Tariq Khamisa — a student at San Diego State University, and a part time pizza delivery driver — was out delivering a pizza when a gang tried to rob him.

When Tariq refused to hand over the pizza, and got back into his car, an older gang member told a younger gang member, 14-year-old Tony Hicks, to shoot Tariq. He did; Tariq died that day. 

Photo: Tariq Khamisa. Courtesy of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation. 

Earlier that month, California had changed its laws so that the minimum age to be tried as an adult for violent crimes went from 16 to 14. Subsequently, Tony became the youngest person in the state to be charged as an adult. He pled guilty to Tariq’s murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life. 

While Azim was grieving the loss of his son, he leaned on his Muslim faith. “I couldn’t be in my body. I couldn’t sleep or eat but I could meditate. And I had this out of body experience. And I don’t remember how long I was gone, but God sent me back to my body with the wisdom that there are victims at both ends of the gun.”

Approximately 9 months after Tariq’s death, Azim started the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, a non-profit that helps create safer schools and communities through educating and inspiring young people in restorative principles. He did so in partnership with Tony’s grandfather and guardian, Ples Felix.

Photo: Ples Felix and Azim Khamisa at their StoryCorps Connect conversation. By Sylvie Lubow for StoryCorps.

And a few years later, the realization that Azim came to — and his friendship with Ples — propelled Azim to do something else: meet Tony.

Photo: Tony Hicks and Azim Khamisa. Courtesy of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.

In 2015, twenty years after losing Tariq, his sister, Tasreen Khamisa, felt a strong pull to visit Tony. Like Azim, that pull was also rooted in spirituality. “I had some really vivid dreams. And in those dreams, Tariq was always telling me it was important that I have a relationship with Tony.”

After that first meeting, Tony and Tasreen stayed in touch. They have a close friendship today — one that extends to Tasreen’s kids as well — and will continue to be a part of each other’s lives.

Photo:  Tasreen Khamisa and Tony Hicks. Courtesy of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.

Forgiveness is complicated. People come to it at their own time, on their own terms, and some people don’t get there at all. But like Azim said, in this case, forgiveness was something that they chose for themselves.

Top photo: Artwork by Lindsay Mound.