In 1999, I watched TV coverage of students fleeing from Columbine High School as a mass murder unfolded at the school. I thought what if that were my daughter?
Two years later, the September 11 attacks occurred. We lived in northern New Jersey then, close enough to the World Trade Center to watch the buildings burn from our home. My daughter was not visibly Muslim, but she has an Arabic last name. I tried repeatedly that morning to call her, frantic over the possibility that she would be a victim of someone’s need for “retaliation.” I finally got through, relieved to know she was all right.
This past Sunday, the family of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old high schooler from Reston, Va., endured what I had been spared. Here is a clip from the Fairfax County Police Department statement regarding Nabra’s murder:
An autopsy this afternoon [June 19] revealed the body recovered from a pond in Loudoun County is that of a Reston teenager who went missing early Sunday morning. The victim has been identified as Nabra Hassanen, 17, of Reston. The autopsy results show Nabra suffered from blunt force trauma to the upper body after a road rage incident. Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, is charged with her murder.
The preliminary investigation reveals at about 3:40 a.m. on Sunday, a group of as many as 15 teenagers was walking and riding bikes on Dranesville Road. The group of teens had been attending an overnight event at a mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society or ADAMS Center, and had left to go to a fast food restaurant. As they were returning to the mosque, some were on the sidewalk and others were on the road itself. Detectives believe Torres came upon the teens while he was driving. The investigation reveals a teenaged boy on a bike began arguing with Torres. Torres then drove his car onto the curb as the group scattered. Witnesses say Torres caught up with them a short time later in a nearby parking lot and got out of his car armed with a baseball bat and began chasing the group. Torres was able to catch Nabra. His anger over the encounter led to violence when he hit Nabra with a baseball bat. Torres then took Nabra with him in his car to a second location nearby in Loudoun County.
The statement goes on to say that Torres assaulted her again and dumped her body in a nearby pond.
They said in their statement that they see no evidence of a hate crime, or that the murder was related to race or religion. Many think otherwise. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Nabra’s father is sure his daughter’s appearance played a part in the assault. “He followed the girls, and all of them had head cloths [sic], meaning they are Muslim…” he is quoted as saying.
According to the Washington Post, Nabra’s mother recounted that she had loaned her daughter an abaya to wear to the masjid that evening, and that a detective told her that as the group Nabra was with scattered, she tripped over the hem of the long dress and fell. Apparently that’s why Torres was “able to catch her,” as the police report says.
Look at the photo of her – the giggly girl with flowers on her head. Imagine her in the flowing abaya that night, surrounded by friends, perhaps with a stomach full of pancakes, then suddenly in the chaos of someone else’s fight. The killer most likely grabbed her by that garment when he struck her.
Torres may not have said aloud any words related to race or religion, but bigotry doesn’t have to be overt to motivate crime, just as privilege needn’t be visible to protect from it.
Nabra is all our daughters, but especially the Muslim daughters and daughters of color and daughters of poverty.
Nabra is all our daughters – the ones who are safe and the ones who are victims. It could have been my daughter running in terror from her high school 18 years ago, but it wasn’t. It could have been my daughter collapsing under the weight of a baseball bat, but it wasn’t. Only Allah knows why.
Remember our daughter Nabra when you pray for the safety of your own family.
Remember our daughter Nabra whenever suspicion arises of anti-Muslim sentiment motivating a crime.
Remember our daughter Nabra so that she can remind us that from Allah we come and to Him we must return. May Allah have mercy on her and give her family and friends patience.
This Launchgood page has a fundraising campaign for Nabra’s family as well as information about vigils being held across the country today.
This entry in the 30 Days of Ramadan blog was written by Ruth Nasrullah, CAIR-Houston’s Communications Coordinator.