Virginia Muslim teenager's death being investigated as road rage, police say
Mohmoud Hassanen tells Guardian his 17-year-old daughter, Nabra, who was killed on Sunday, that he does not believe authorities’ version of events
Mohmoud Hassanen: ‘When I go to court I’m going to look him in the eye: why did you do this to my daughter?’ Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian
Monday 19 June 2017 14.46 EDT Last modified on Monday 19 June 2017 16.57 EDT
Police say the killing of a Muslim teenager near a mosque close to Washington DC is being investigated as a road rage incident.
But the father of Nabra Hassanen rejected detectives’ theory and said he believed his 17-year-old daughter was targeted because she was Muslim.
Nabra was with friends walking back from a McDonald’s in Sterling, Virginia, in the early hours of Sunday when they got into a dispute with a man in a car, according to police. Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, has been charged with her murder and is being held without bail pending a court appearance on 19 July.
“This tragic case appears to be the result of a road rage incident involving the suspect, who was driving and who is now charged with murder, and a group of teenagers who was walking and riding bikes in and along a roadway,” a Fairfax County police statement said. “Our investigation at this point in no way indicates the victim was targeted because of her race or religion.”
However, Nabra’s father, Mohmoud Hassanen, rejected that version of events. “I don’t believe this story,” he told the Guardian by phone on Monday afternoon. “I tell the detective the same thing.”
Hassanen, 60, said he had heard from a detective about a related incident in which the suspect was angered by a boy on a bike, yet he chose to attack Nabra instead. “He killed my daughter because she is Muslim. That’s what I believe. That’s what I told him.”
A driver for a limousine company, Egyptian-born Hassanen moved to the US in 1987 and Nabra, born in the US, was the eldest of four daughters. On Saturday, he recalled, she had 13 Muslim friends over at the family flat in Reston, Virginia, to break fast at about 8.30pm. They left at 9.30 or 9.45pm for late night prayers, held during the last 10 days of Ramadan, at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (Adams) mosque in nearby Sterling.
Speaking in sombre tones on Monday morning at his home, Hassanen said: “After everybody had gone, after about three or four minutes, she came back. I think maybe she forgot something. Then she came inside the kitchen. She just kissed me, she said goodbye. It was the last time I saw her.”
He had suggested to Nabra that he would pick her up, Hassanen added, but she said a friend’s father was going to collect the group. Then, at about 3am, police told Hassanen that she was missing. Around 15 children were interviewed at the Adams mosque as witnesses, he continued.
Breathing hard to keep his emotions in check, Hassanen said they gave this version of events: “My daughter fell down. When she fell down, the guy hit her with a baseball stick. He went and drove his car and came back, and picked her up and threw her in a lake a mile from the mosque.”
The suspect was rapidly caught, confessed that he was responsible and led them to the lake, he added.
Despite the police being quick to indicate they are not treating it as a hate crime, Hassanen feels sure that Nabra’s appearance played some part. “He followed the girls, and all of them had head cloths, meaning they are Muslim, and he had a baseball stick.
“He was running behind these kids. I told the detective: ‘I want to ask him one question. Why did he do that? Because he doesn’t like Muslims, or what?’ He tells me he has no answer for that. This answer is going to be in the court.”
Asked if he thought his daughter was killed because she was Muslim, Hassanen replied: “I believe so, 100%. In the McDonald’s there’s a lot of kids, a lot of people; why did he run behind this girl especially? For what?
“When I go to court I’m going to look him in the eye: why did you do this to my daughter? Then I’m going to forgive him and leave him to God’s face. The lord is going to judge him. He took my daughter’s life.”
Hassanen declined to directly blame Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies for creating a hostile climate. “Maybe? Who knows. Maybe. The media is very important to leave a message to these people, to racists.”
On Monday morning Hassanen was gathered with grieving, Arabic-speaking friends in his apartment in the suburb, about seven miles from Washington’s Dulles international airport. He recalled how his daughter loved fashion and music, had volunteered for work helping homeless people.
As scenes from Mecca played on television, he said of his daughter: “She was 17 years old. She had no problem with me or her mum or anything. She’s a very nice girl. She liked to help. She did something good.
“I teach my kids how to be good Muslims, how to feel about the other people. She had Christian friends, she had Spanish friends, she had Muslim friends. I raised my kids just to be nice. We don’t have hate. We don’t teach about hate. We teach to be good to the other people: if it’s Muslim or Jew or Christian or whatever, it’s human.”
The killing has shocked the Muslim community gathering to pray at the Adams mosque, the biggest in northern Virginia, which recently opened a new extension. It advertises services such as food, coat and blanket drives, family fun nights and funeral services. On Monday, as worshippers came and went as normal, staff declined to comment beyond an official statement.
The number of anti-Muslim bias incidents in the US jumped 57% in 2016 to 2,213, up from 1,409 in 2015, the Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group said in a report last month. Fairfax County, an affluent area where Hillary Clinton won 65% of the vote in last November’s election, is not noted for religious tension or intolerance.
Members of the local Islamic community were divided on the impact of Trump and his policies. Randy Myers, a 44-year-old Muslim, said he believed there was a lot of hate in the US and that Trump was fuelling hostility. “Trump being the president plays a big part because of the things that come out of his mouth,” he said.
Wajid Khan, 46, a former security supervisor originally from Pakistan, cautioned against rushing to political conclusions: “It’s not related to Trump. Give him a chance. Muslims are not afraid: I’ve lived here for 25 years and it’s a peaceful community.”
Additional reporting by Oliver Laughland in New York