What was supposed to be a morning of prayer and reflection in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ended in tragedy when 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen was fatally attacked as she headed back to a Virginia mosque after enjoying a pre-dawn meal with friends.
Hassanen died of blunt force trauma to her upper body after 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres assaulted her with a baseball bat early Sunday in what police have described as a road rage incident in suburban Washington, authorities said Monday.
Police said Martinez Torres attacked the girl after getting into a fight with another teen in the group and they have found no evidence to suggest Hassanen’s killing was a hate crime.
“Nothing indicates that this was motivated by race or by religion. It appears the suspect became so enraged over this traffic argument that it escalated into deadly violence,” Fairfax County Police Spokeswoman Julie Parker said.
Hassanen, 17, was with a group of as many as 15 other teens who had left their Sterling-area mosque between Ramadan prayers to get food at a McDonald’s, Parker said.
They were making their way back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Sunday, some walking and some riding bikes, when the suspect drove up to the group and began to argue with a male teen, Parker said.
Martinez Torres drove onto a curb and the group scattered, Parker said. Torres caught up with them in a nearby parking lot, got out of his car armed with a baseball bat and began chasing the group, she said.
Torres hit Hassanen with the bat and took her with him in his car to another nearby location, where he assaulted her another time, Parker said. Authorities later found her body in a pond.
The girl’s father, Mohmoud Hassanen Aboras of Reston, said he doesn’t understand how this could have happened because his daughter was a friend to everyone.
Aboras emigrated from southern Egypt and has three younger daughters, who like Nabra were born in the U.S. He’s not particularly interested in knowing why his daughter was attacked or whether it could be considered a hate crime. His daughter is gone, regardless.
“My daughter is dead, and I don’t want anyone to feel what I feel, to lose your 17-year-old daughter … Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hispanic, whatever,” he said, surrounded by more than a dozen friends and family in his apartment.
Two boys in their group who spoke with The Associated Press after paying condolences to the family Monday said they didn’t witness anything to make them think it was a hate crime. They said that when the car pulled up beside them and slowed down, they thought the driver might even be a friend playing a joke.
When the car hopped the curb, they perceived hostile intent and began to run. The group of more than a dozen kids did not immediately realize Hassanen was missing. Once they did, they told security officials at the mosque, who contacted police. The boys declined to give their names.
ADAMS is one of the largest mosques in the country and is particularly busy during Ramadan. Observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, and since Ramadan this year overlaps with the summer solstice, and sunrise occurs well before 6 a.m., some Muslims will eat large meals in predawn hours.
Martinez Torres, who is charged with murder, was arraigned Monday and denied bail pending a July 19 court appearance. A judge appointed him a public defender, whose office declined comment. Immigration authorities put a detainer on him, saying he’s a citizen of El Salvador and there’s probable cause to believe he lacks permission to be in the U.S.
The lack of a hate crime investigation provoked deep skepticism among some American Muslims.
Abas Sherif, a spokesman for the victim’s family, said Nabra and all the other girls in her group were wearing Muslim head coverings and loose Islamic robes when the driver approached.
“Road rage. Indeed. If you think for a minute that her appearance had nothing to do with this crime, you’re lying to yourself,” tweeted attorney Rabia Chaudry, a prominent Muslim activist who lives in the Washington suburbs.
Chaudry says the girl’s death has prompted her to forbid her 20-year-old daughter from going out in the middle of the night without a parent.
“I know I said that out of fear, and just feeling helpless. … But the truth is, Nabra could’ve been attacked at any time of the day,” Chaudry said.
Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer and Sarah Rankin contributed to this report from Richmond, Virginia.