CROOKSTON, Minn. — Nearly 200 local Somali people gathered Monday, Feb. 3, at the Polk County Justice Center in Crookston to show support for Nimo Khalif at her second court hearing after her six children were removed from her custody late last month.

The courtroom was at capacity at 65 people, limiting media access to the proceedings. Outside the courtroom, sheriff's deputies did their best to manage the crowd. When the group in the upstairs lobby swelled past capacity, some were asked to wait downstairs. Additional community members waited outside in single-digit weather to be let in one at a time by a deputy as others exited the courthouse.

Sacbiya Farah, of Grand Forks, said that, if it were any other Somali, the community would do the same thing.

"The kids are the light of the house," Farah said. "When someone takes your kids, your house is dark."

Khalif remains under investigation by Polk County Social Services and the East Grand Forks Police Department after one of her children reported an incident at home to a teacher on Jan. 16. Khalif's six children, ranging in age from 10 months to 16 years, were removed from her custody on Jan. 17.

It remains unclear what incident was reported, or why the children were removed. But Khalif's cousin Ahmed Aden, who traveled to Crookston from Minneapolis, said the allegations were false.

Aden said that, in Monday's hearing, social services said it was seeking a "different culturally appropriate setting" for the children while the investigation is conducted, and that Khalif will be allowed to breastfeed her youngest child. She will appear for a third court date in March.

Khalif did not grant an interview upon her lawyer's advice.

According to guidelines provided by a Minnesota Department of Human Services spokesperson, once a report of child maltreatment has been received, social services have either 24 hours or five days to respond, depending on the urgency of the case. Social services must then complete an investigation within 45 days.

In 2019, 59.4% of Minnesota children removed from their homes by social services were reunited with their parents or primary caretakers in 2018, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Among those who traveled to show their support were Ali Farah, Khalif's late husband's cousin, who drove eight hours from Aberdeen, S.D., for the proceedings. He explained that whether blood-related or not, the Somali community, as a whole, treats each other like one big extended family.

Mohamed Hassan said he expects there will be a similar turnout at Khalif's third court date.

"We don't know why this happened, so we're here to see that she gets a fair trial," Hassan said. "We have trust in justice. We're here to see what happened."