The arrests of Yonthan Ayele and Belule Ayele, senior twins at Witteberg, shook the international student community, causing many students to speak to their character.
“We have been friends since the first day of college. We fight sometimes but we are like brothers and sisters. The whole group looks out for each other,” said Jane Ha, senior and friend of the twins.
Robert Everett, senior and friend of the twins for over a year and a half said, “I was very surprised by their arrest. I had never seen them be physically violent before the incidents.”
Other friends and family were shocked as well. Michael Ayele, the twins’ older brother arranged to come to Springfield when he heard the news. He started assessing the situation and asking friends to create videos and write testimonials to the twin’s character.
“The circumstances of how I came to know about my brothers’ trouble are not the most pleasant,” said Ayele. “I had received various voicemails from my mom, dad and my uncle which alarmed me. They were all terribly distressed by what they were told on the phone.”
Ayele continued, “I have talked with Yonatan over the phone a few times since his incarceration. I’m sure it’s something he wishes he could undo if he could. I feel for the victims and I feel for my brothers. We’re animal lovers and it is not in our nature to hurt other people.”
However, several friends had noticed a shift in Belule Ayele’s behavior in the months prior to the incident.
“He had been skipping classes, talking to himself, making several references about God, Satan etc… He was delusional and paranoid for a long time before the incident,” said Michael Ayele. “My visit with him in jail has reaffirmed my position. I’m told by Anthony S. Vannoy (attorney) that he’s been diagnosed with Bipolar-Disorder.”
“We were in the same group of friends, we were pretty close. We stayed on campus during winter break so I had the chance to see their behavior change better than other people,” said Ha. “They will have to pay for their actions but I want a fair trial with all the elements of the situation considered. This is not like other sexual assault cases. The situation is more complicated than that. They were not the criminal type.”
Michael Ayele became very involved in collecting information on his brothers to piece together what had happened.
“I gave him [Michael] a testimony because I thought that he wanted to learn more about the situation, primarily Babsi’s state of being before his incident occurred,” said Everett. “Michael is doing what he thinks is best for his brothers. His involvement may be seen as odd and extreme, but I believe that he just wants his brothers to be well and to return home.”
“I was approached by their brother to make a video to show to their friends back home, in Ethiopia, that they have friends who are supporting them here,” said Jesse Zwennes. “I don’t think Michael is necessarily trying to prove that they are innocent, he wants to make sure that they have a fair trial.”
Alumni Oscar Gonzalez has a different view on the matter. “I do not want to say that they are innocent because they were there, at the wrong place and at the wrong time,” said Gonzalez. “I can only say that as their friend, I am there to support them. However, I can’t imagine what the victims went, [and] are going through. So, to them I want to apologize in behalf of my friends.”