Ainzargul Totakhil, right, was killed while driving an Uber on New Year's Eve, 2022. Credit: Courtesy photo

Uber driver Ainzargul Totakhil was trying to live the American dream.

Last month, the 40-year-old native of Afghanistan and married father of seven children—five sons and two daughters—became an American citizen after moving to North Carolina in 2016.

“He was very excited,” his cousin Yousaf Mangal told the INDY this week.

“He was very excited because his family was moving to the United States,” said Mangal, who added that Totakhil’s wife is pregnant with their eighth child.

Mangal said he and Totakhil both worked as interpreters for U.S. troops for more than a decade. He said they moved to North Carolina after they received immigration visas, to escape the violence his country was enduring.

Totakhil’s dream turned into a nightmare on New Year’s Eve when he was shot to death in East Durham where he was working.

Talk about a cruel irony: Totakhil and his cousin chose to live in North Carolina because most of their American friends were stationed at Fort Bragg. He escaped the horrific violence in his own country only to be slain by gunfire in East Durham. 

“Unfortunately, it happened to us here in America,” Mangal said. “This is a crazy world.”

It was just after 10:55 p.m. when police responded to reports of a shooting on Holloway Street, near South Adams Street. When the officers arrived they found Totakhil inside of his vehicle, mortally wounded. Emergency workers pronounced the Uber driver dead at the scene, according to a Durham police press release.

Investigators have not disclosed a motive for the shooting, but they say it was not random.

“He became a U.S. citizen two weeks before he was killed,” Mangal said. “He dreamed of his kids becoming U.S. citizens and was excited about his kids getting a better education. Education is a mess in Afghanistan. No one is going to school, especially the girls.”

One year before arriving in the United States, fighting between the Taliban and government forces Mangal and Totakhil’s homeland had escalated, according to Human Rights Watch.

“The upsurge in violence had devastating consequences for civilians, with suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and targeted attacks by the Taliban and other insurgents causing 70 percent of all civilian casualties. The number of civilians killed during government military operations, particularly ground offensives, increased too,” Human Rights Watch reported.

Mangal said it was about 4:50 a.m. when police called and told him his cousin had been fatally shot inside of his vehicle on Holloway Street. He called his cousin’s family, who have been living at a U.S. military base in Qatar. He said Totakhil last saw his family about three months ago when he traveled to Afghanistan, helped them secure green cards and brought them to Qatar on October 18.

“There was crying, pain; a lot of grief and sorrow,” Mangal told the INDY about his call to Totakhil’s family to inform them about his death.

Mangal said he last spoke with his cousin about three or four hours before he was killed.

“I told him to come join us for dinner,” Mangal said. “He said he was in Apex dropping off  a last fare, and was going to Cary for another fare. There was a lot of work because it was New Year’s night.”

Mangal, on January 4, set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for his cousin’s funeral expenses, and to help his family with expenses when they arrive in America.

So far, about 1,400 people have donated $63,719 toward the fundraising goal of $80,000.

On the GoFundMe page, Mangal described his cousin as “a devoted family man, loved by his community, friends and family” who “has left behind a wife and 7 children without any BREAD EARNER now.”

Mangal told the INDY that Totakhil’s family will use the funds to find a house when they arrive in the United States, and purchase furniture.

“They deserve it,” Mangal said about his cousin’s wife and children.

Totakhil’s funeral took place Friday at the Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman Masjid on Fayetteville Street in Durham

“We dreamed the American dream, except it’s my dream now. He’s gone,” Mangal said. “His family will pursue the American dream.

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