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Victim was 'trying to move on'

Woman reached out to troubled youth

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

Samoeun Sam was a young man with a talent for drawing, a love of basketball and an interest in electronics.

That's how Sandy Cookman described the 19-year-old she first came to know as a troubled young teen-ager nearly six years ago.

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She was one of the first people Sam's friends called early Sunday after a shooting in a residential area of northwest Rochester.

"Sam, wake up, wake up," Cookman said she heard kids crying in the background.

He never did wake up. Sam, who had been the Cookmans' foster son for more than two years, was pronounced dead on arrival at Saint Marys Hospital from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Cookman has long been involved in helping Rochester's at-risk teen-agers. She was one of the founders of Community Youth Outreach. It began as a volunteer effort in which Cookman informally hung out with troubled young people and tried to counsel and guide them.

She said she first met Sam when he was almost 14.

"I had noticed him with other kids that I had been working with, and then I got a call from a teacher who said he had been missing school and asked if I could reach out to him," Cookman said.

Sam and his younger brother, Mao, and their mother had moved to Rochester from Chicago the previous year. Sam was born in Chicago.

Cookman said Sam didn't know his father, and his mother was unable to care for the boys.

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Cookman said she and her husband, Les, became licensed foster care parents to take Sam into their home.

Sam graduated from Rochester Off Campus, an alternative school. She said that when he was released from foster care at age 18, he hadn't finished high school.

"He really wanted to do that. That was a goal of his,'' she said. "We told him he could stay here until he graduated. He ended up staying here longer."

He was working for Schmidt Printing and hoped to continue his education to get training in electronics, she said.

In recent weeks, he was trying to move out, but he continued living part-time at the Cookman home.

"He was feeling like he needed to get out on his own, but he always came back here every day and talked,'' she said.

She said the troubled boy she first met had become a young man with a future.

"It's not like he was perfect or anything,'' Cookman said, "But he was really growing and learning and trying to move on with his life."

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According to Olmsted District juvenile court records, Sam had previous charges in juvenile court for such things as possession of burglary tools, theft and simple robbery. He had been sentenced to the Bar None residential program in Anoka in 1999 for 15 months. Court records say he had been through several correctional and residential treatment programs in recent years. When he returned to Rochester, he moved into the Cookman home. Court records also show he had been cited for probation violations, including keeping in contact with past gang associates.

Authorities are investigating whether gang activity played a role in Sunday's shooting. Police say some of the participants in an altercation at a restaurant prior to the shooting were believed to be gang members. However, they say there is no evidence that the suspect arrested or either of the victims is a member of an organized street gang. Cookman said Sam was not in a gang.

"He was totally not involved in anything that was going on. He was not involved in violence at all. That is totally not him,'' Cookman said.

She said Sam had gone to the house in the 5200 block of Kingston Place Northwest to join his friends.

"I felt like they were ambushed,'' she said of Sam and his friends early Sunday. "They were trying to get away from trouble and went to a friend's house to get away. Sam walked out and no more than got out the door and fell back into the house."

Funeral services are being planned for 10 a.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church.

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