Kojo Nnamdi Tells Why He Still Feels Guilt Decades After Hanafi Siege

The longtime D.C. radio host said that years after the Hanafi Siege at the Wilson Building in 1977, he feels sorry for a decision he fears could have saved the life of 24-year-old Maurice Williams

NBC Universal, Inc.

Forty-five years after a radio reporter was gunned down inside D.C.’s Wilson Building, one of his colleague’s still feels the pain and harbors some guilt.

Kojo Nnamdi and Maurice Williams were both working at WHUR when in 1977 a group of Hanafi Muslims stormed the building, killing Williams and wounding three others, including then-Council Member Marion Barry. 

With a twist of fate, Nnamdi fears the circumstances may have been different.

Last Friday, News4 picked up the phone to call Nnamdi with some news: The man who killed Williams had been released from prison. The memories came flooding back.

Nnamdi, a longtime host at WAMU, told a story that haunts him to this day — a story that, until now, he had only told in private.

The gunman who killed WHUR reporter Maurice Williams, wounded then-D.C. Council member Marion Barry and shot security guard Mark Cantrell in the Hanafi Siege of 1977 was granted compassionate release from prison.

He said that the day of the siege, he had arranged to go to lunch with another reporter. 

“As we were leaving the press office, Maurice as usual said, ‘Can I come?’ And we were like, ‘No, no, no, these are for the big boys. You will have to get a little older before you can go to lunch with us.’ And he was like, ‘Ah man, this is always happening to me.’”

No more than an hour later, leaving the restaurant, Nnamdi saw the commotion at the building and raced back to WHUR, where the phone was already ringing. Another reporter gave him the news.

“People have taken over the fifth floor of the District building, there’s been shooting, and I saw Maurice lying in the hallway outside the press room,” Nnamdi remembers being told. “He said, ‘He’s lying there, and there are bullet holes in his sweater, but he is not moving.”

Williams had just stepped out of the elevator with Barry when he was shot.

“It was one of the worst days of our lives,” Nnamdi said.

The Hanafi Muslims seized three buildings that day and took more than 140 hostages. Their leader, Hamas Abdul Khaalis, wanted to bring attention to the murder of his family in 1973.

Williams was just 24 years old. He had just graduated from Howard University. The press room inside the Wilson Building is now named in his honor.

“Even today, the horror of it all still causes me feelings of pain and anxiety,” Nnamdi said. 

“When you look back on it, you say, you know, the smallest things in life can make the biggest differences in life,” he continued. “Had he had just come to lunch with us, none of this would have probably happened.” 

The killer, Abdul Muzikir, was given a compassionate release from prison in April. Nnamdi said he’s OK with it and that the man served his time.

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