AUBURN, Ala.- When you hear the song “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” coming from the gray van with frozen treats pictured on the side, you know Suleiman Alfa is behind the wheel and getting ready to spread joy to the neighborhood.
Alfa, who went to Auburn University and worked his way through school began selling ice cream to the community 21 years ago. In that time, he’s touched the lives of thousands of people in more ways than delivering a tasty treat. He knows everyone by name, and has sold ice cream to the likes of Super Bowl Champion and Auburn native, Demarcus Ware and more.
“They can hear the music,” Alfa said from his Midtown Medical Center hospital room on Friday. “They have good ears. They can hear me miles away. They’re waiting for me. When I go to Grove Hill and I see those smiles. It’s a great joy to go home and know those kids are happy.”
In addition to driving his ice cream truck, Alfa works at the Marathon Gas Station along Columbus Parkway in Opelika. He works there to pay his son’s college tuition. He was working from 11 p.m. Sunday to 7 a.m. Monday when the store was robbed. Alfa said two men came in the store and shot the customer and went around the counter and told him to get on the ground while asking for the money.
On the way out of the store, one of the men shot Alfa four times.
“I begged him,” Alfa said. “I said, please, I’m a 57-year-old man. There’s nothing I can do. Please. While I laid down, I begged he stop shooting. Please. I begged him for my life, but he kept shooting.”
Elizabeth Garrett has lived in the Grove Hill neighborhood in Auburn for almost 12 years. She said Alfa has known her two kids since they were six and three. She said when she hears that song, she and her family will come out to say hi, even if they don’t have a sweet tooth at that time.
“He just brings a lot of happiness and joy,” Garrett said. “When you hear him coming, everybody comes out to get ice cream and to say hello to him and visit with him. He’s always happy.”
Garrett’s son, Wheeler said he was devastated when he learned what happened to Alfa.
“Everybody in my neighborhood loves him,” Wheeler Garrett said. “I’m 14, and I still go out to see the ice cream man. He’s a really nice guy.”
In light of what happened, Elizabeth Garrett and others in the neighborhood have come together and created at GoFundMe to help him cover his expenses.
Those in the neighborhood say there will be a void without Alfa and his truck, but hope that he and his shining smile can make a comeback soon.
“Auburn is a family,” Alfa said. “We are a family in Auburn. It’s a community where everybody knows everybody. We love each other, and we take care of each in Auburn,”