' “My family and I did not have the basics of life. We had lost everything,” Alroustom said in Arabic through an interpreter. “For me to come to the United States, I was willing because there was nothing for me to lose.”
Homs, a city in west central Syria, was one of the first places to join the rebellion against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and it was commonly the site of mass anti-government demonstrations. As passive protest was replaced by armed revolt and the country descended into civil war, Homs became a priority target for government forces as a determined Assad held onto power. Destruction in the city became widespread as Assad’s forces took aim at rebel strongholds there with deadly implements of war.
Alroustom lived there before the war with his wife, Suha Shaaban, his autistic son, Wesam, and his daughter, Maaesa. He said he ran a supermarket in the city and had relatives nearby. Like many people in the city in the early days of the Syrian revolution, he had hoped that the protest movement would bring reform to a regime viewed as corrupt and repressive. But as Assad cracked down, rebel-held areas in Homs came under hellish bombardment.
Returning home after bombings, Alroustom said they would find shattered windows and blasted walls, until the toll was so great they decided to leave. They stayed with relatives in two other places, but those neighborhoods also came under fire.
Shaaban recalled a time when her son, now 7, was standing near a window and a bullet whizzed by, just missing him. Another time, the bombing was so heavy the boy fell to the ground and struck his head.
“Imagine those heavy barrel bombs,” Shaaban said, about the infamous and deadly explosive devices filled with shrapnel and oil and dropped by plane or helicopter.
“Every time, he gets so scared. Even now, we have Fourth of July fireworks and he’ll go crazy,” Shaaban said, describing how her son closes his eyes, grabs her and cries.'