Early Sunday morning, 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen was reported missing following prayer at a mosque in Sterling, Virginia. On Sunday afternoon, police said they believed they had found her body floating in a pond in the area.
Authorities have charged a 22-year-old man, Darwin A. Martinez Torres, in connection with her murder. According to reports, Hassanen and a group of her friends were returning from breakfast at McDonald's around 4 AM during a break in Ramadan prayers, when they were confronted by Torres, who was in his car. The friends ran into the nearby mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), where they had earlier said their prayers, but Hassanen was left behind. "Her friends could not find her and police were called to help," the police report states.
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Authorities believe that Torres got out of his car, assaulted Hassanen, and killed her. They believe that the remains discovered in the pond are those of the missing teen, but an autopsy is needed for confirmation and to determine the exact cause and manner of death.
Hassanen's mother, Sawsan Gazzar, told the Washington Post detectives had told her her daughter was struck with a metal bat. Gazzar said that she had loaned her daughter an abaya to wear to the mosque, and that she was told her daughter tripped over the dress and fell to the ground before she was struck. Hassanen's mother also told the publication that it wasn't unusual for Hassanen and other teens to eat at the McDonald's or a 24-hour IHOP after late prayers during Ramadan; the young people had always felt at ease walking home in the area. Now they fear for their safety.
Hassanen's family believes that their daughter was killed because she was Muslim. "I think it had to do with the way she was dressed and the fact that she's Muslim," Gazzar told the Washington Post. "Why would you kill a kid? What did my daughter do to deserve this?"
I think it had to do with the way she was dressed and the fact that she's Muslim.
However, the police announced Monday that they are not investigating the murder as a hate crime. "At this point, detectives have no info leading them to believe the murder had anything to do with religion of the victim or the mosque," a police spokesman told Broadly.
"Given the global atmosphere," he continued, referring to the attacks that Muslims in the US have faced and today's attack on a mosque in London, "it would be a natural assumption that if the victim is Muslim and the crime occurred near a mosque [then it must be a hate crime]. I understand that, and we are very aware of that. If theres any indication that it was related we will investigate it to the fullest extent. At this point it seems like a coincidence."
In an interview with the Guardian this afternoon, Hassanen's father emotionally recounted his conversation with a detective working on the case. "I told the detective, 'I want to ask [Torres] one question. Why did he do that? Because he doesn't like Muslims, or what?'" he said. "He tells me he has no answer for that. This answer is going to be in the court."