A Song for Mouhamed: Teenage Talent Gunned Down in West Philadelphia

An 18-year-old who inspired others with his love for music was tragically killed walking from his home to a convenience store in June. His murder remains unsolved.

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Music took Mouhamed Cisse to new places, introduced him to new friends, and put him on the verge of new possibilities. 

But in a shooting last month, the 18-year-old cellist was killed just down the street from his home in West Philadelphia. 

“It was supposed to be a quick trip. It was supposed to be him going there and coming right back,” Mouhamed’s older brother Abouboucar Cisse said of the night of the shooting. He says Mouhamed was going to a nearby 24-hour store with a friend for a snack. 

Cisse’s death is devastating not just his family -- including his mother who says the family came to the United States from West Africa for a better life -- but also supporters in Philadelphia and around the country who encouraged his musical talent from childhood and hoped it would take him to college.

“I think it’s absolutely imperative that we do not let him become another statistic,” Melanie Moll said. Her son Alex was a student at the University of Pennsylvania volunteering to teach young students when he met Cisse, his first student. 

Family of Mouhamed Cisse
Mouhamed Cisse, 18, was shot to death in West Philadelphia. The talented musician inspired others with his talent and ambition, friends and mentors say.

Alex Moll, who played cello since he was a young child, taught Cisse on the instrument after school.

“He would call me and tell me, ‘Wow this kid is amazing, his pitch, his rhythm," Moll said. "He’s a fast learner."

Mouhamed first picked up an instrument in grade school, and he immediately began pushing the boundaries of what he could and couldn't play, according to Molly McGlone, who worked with Cisse and Moll in the University of Pennsylvania program. He was willing to take risks and push himself, she said. 

“That was one of the beauties of his personality, too,” McGlone said. "He loved to try new things."

Those who knew Cisse say they don’t think he was aware at the time that his mentor, Alex Moll, was sick - diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare cancer, when he was 12 years old. 

“He tried to do as many things as he could because he did not know whether or not his life was going to be long or short,” Moll said in an interview from her home in North Carolina. 

Before the Penn student died, he asked his mother to help Mouhamed continue his music by using some inheritance money that had been left to Moll by his grandfather.

Moll's gift paid the way for Cisse to attend Camp Encore/Coda, a summer music camp in Maine for six summers.

“Mouhamed showed a tremendous amount of courage, which always impressed me,” said Jamie Saltman, who runs the camp with his wife Ellen Donohue-Saltman. “Leaving everything that was familiar to him - and he was 11 years old at the time his first summer - and coming up here to Maine which probably seemed like the other end of the universe to him as an 11 year old.” 

Saltman said Cisse made new friends and played both the cello and drums there, thriving in what became his “summer home.” 

In his real home, West Philadelphia, Cisse’s mother Manance always worried about the safety of her youngest son.

“I (would always) tell him right now he’s teenager - be careful. When you go outside, be careful. When you go outside, come home early,” she said. 

Cisse’s brother said the two of them would talk about being afraid where they lived, and share their plans with each other for eventually leaving the neighborhood. 

“We always knew that we had a plan,” he said. “We knew that we were going to leave Philly.”

Philadelphia police have not made any arrests in the June 1 shooting and don’t have any suspects, but say the case is active. 

“The assigned investigator remains diligent in the pursuit of justice for Mr. Cisse and his family,” a police spokesperson said. 

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