STERLING, Va. (AP) — Thousands of mourners left their cars as traffic overflowed and walked more than a mile to reach Wednesday’s funeral of a 17-year-old Muslim girl whose beating death, blamed by police on road rage, has some in her community fearing for their safety.
Nabra Hassanen, 17, was remembered as a shining example of kindness and openness during the services, where about 5,000 people gathered to show their solidarity.
“There is nothing like losing a child, especially in the way that we lost Nabra,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, the religious leader of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. He said he sought to comfort the victim’s mother by telling her that a person who dies is such a manner “will enter paradise, with not any question asked.”
Police said Hassanen was bludgeoned with a baseball bat early Sunday by a motorist who drove up to about 15 Muslim teenagers as they walked or bicycled along a road. Police said the driver became enraged after exchanging words with a boy in the group. A Hassanen family spokesman said all the girls in the group were wearing Muslim headscarves and robes.
At the funeral, where an overflow area was itself overflowing with mourners, Magid acknowledged that the slaying has people grieving and fearful, but he praised the many people who turned out “in a fever” to search for the teen before police discovered her body Sunday afternoon.
“I want to tell you my brothers and sisters in this community: You have to remain strong. You have to remain resilient,” he said. “We have only each other.”
Joining the mourners was Lamia Sarver of McLean, who said she does not usually attend ADAMS, but wanted to support the Hassanen family. She said the tragedy hits home because she has a daughter Nabra’s age.
“It’s kind of scary what’s happening,” she said.
Lena Masri, national litigation director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement that CAIR is representing Hassanen’s family and “will monitor the development of the investigation to ensure a thorough examination of any possible bias aspects of the case.”
Police said they are continuing to investigate, but so far they have found no evidence pointing to a hate crime by Darwin Martinez Torres, a 22-year-old from El Salvador suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. He’s being held without bail on a charge of murder.
Virginia’s hate crime law requires in part that the victim was targeted because of her religion. Fairfax Police said Martinez Torres chased the youngsters with a baseball bat, and catching up with Hassanen and beating her after her friends had scattered. Then, they say, he put her in his car, assaulted her again and dumped her body.
Some Islamic leaders remain skeptical that Hassenan’s religion and appearance weren’t a factor.
“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, he didn’t say anything against Islam, so no hate crime,’ ” said CAIR Spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.
Joshua Salaam, chaplain at the ADAMS Center, told a press conference Tuesday that the mosque has faith in the police investigation.
At the same time, he said there are people in the Muslim community who are less concerned with the legalities of what constitutes a hate crime and have a more visceral reaction.
“We have people who may feel this is a hate crime, and we’re dealing with that,” he said.
Salaam said the community is struggling because Nabra was beloved by so many, and so well known for her kind spirit.
“If nobody gave you a compliment, she gave you a compliment,” he said. “We’re all in shock. We’re all in pain. We’re all missing her.”
Nabra, a 10th-grader with three younger sisters, was well known in her Reston neighborhood.
Chris Kpadeh, a junior at South Lakes High School, where Nabra attended, said she “was very happy, very positive.”
South Lakes is home to a diverse student body. Nabra’s father, Mohmoud Hassanen Aboras, noted that his daughter’s best friends were Hispanic Christians.
“I raise my kids how I was raised,” he said. “We don’t judge people by color or by religion.”
Associated Press reporter Alanna Durkin Richer contributed to this report from Richmond.