In 2006, the year after Mesfin Nega and Shimelis Yegazu made their pact, a group of men attacked Nega outside an Adams Morgan nightclub, breaking his neck and damaging his spinal cord. When he awoke from an induced coma, his breathing made possible by a ventilator, Nega learned that he was a quadriplegic.
For six years, Nega and Yegazu did nothing. Then, three months ago, on Aug. 14, Yegazu fulfilled his promise, D.C. police announced Wednesday. He administered a lethal dose of phenobarbital to his friend in the Columbia Heights rowhouse that Nega, 38, shared with his sister, police said.
Yegazu, 38, who was visiting from his home in Colorado, then took the drug himself. He died five days later. Police have classified the case as a murder-suicide.
A police official with knowledge of the investigation said detectives think the two men carried out a long-planned suicide pact, in which one would help the other die and then take his own life. The police official said the men probably swallowed pills that caused their deaths.
Mamie Mesfin, Nega’s sister, a nurse at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, said yesterday that her brother had long been despondent over his physical state and had told her numerous times that he wanted to commit suicide. But she had not believed that he would because he had no use of his hands.
“How would he do it?” Mamie Mesfin asked. “He couldn’t scratch his nose. You had to move his arm for him.”
It had not occurred to her, she said, that Yegazu, the father of a 3-year-old daughter, would assist her brother with his suicide. She said she knew nothing of a suicide pact and did not realize that her brother’s friend, who went by the nickname “Shime,” was in despair.
“The mystery is how and why Shime was that down,” she said.
Lydia Tabesse, 34, a friend to both men, said she was aware that Nega and Yegazu had talked of helping each other if either suffered a critical injury after which he was kept alive by a ventilator.
She said she was present when the two men discussed the idea seven years ago.
Nega told Yegazu, she said: “ ‘If anything were to happen to me, I hope you got my back. I hope you advocate on my side not to keep me on a machine.’ ”
After doctors put Nega on a ventilator to keep him alive, Tabesse said, Yegazu “had a lot of guilt. Mesfin was on the machine, and he was saying he felt guilty for not doing anything about it or pulling the plug. He was like, ‘I made a promise to him.’ ”
Instead, Yegazu led a fundraising drive to cover Nega’s medical costs.
The men were friends for about a decade, Tabesse said, having become close at a reggae festival in California. She described them as “very tight. They were like kindred spirits, very brave about taking challenges.”