A tight-knit Muslim community in the suburbs of Washington was in shock Monday after a 17-year-old girl was apparently beaten to death and dumped in a pond following late-night prayers at the local mosque.
Police in Fairfax County, Virginia, have charged a 22-year-old local man, Darwin Martinez Torres, with the teenager’s killing, and said on Twitter they were “NOT investigating this murder as a hate crime.”
But social media lit up with expressions of anger over the crime, which follows a series of deadly incidents targeting Muslims in North America, and condolence over the sudden, seemingly random death of a young girl.
While the teen has yet to be officially named by police, friends and worshippers at the mosque in Sterling, known as the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, identified her as Nabra Hassanen, from the nearby town of Reston.
The attack occurred in the early hours of Sunday as a group of young Muslims were walking back from the town center plaza after midnight prayers at the mosque, according to accounts by police and worshippers.
“A man who appeared to be drunk got out of his car with a bat,” one of the youths, Tasneem Khan, wrote on social media.
All of the youths with the exception of Hassanen managed to run back to the mosque upon seeing the assailant.
Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer and commentator who attended the prayer service, said the teen was “apparently beaten to death by this man.”
Fairfax County police spokesman Don Gotthardt told AFP the assault is not being treated as a hate crime at this stage because “there is no information connecting the victim’s faith or religion to the crime.”
Still, on Twitter, many people expressed incredulity.
“Anyone want to explain to me why this isn’t being investigated as a hate crime? I am disgusted and so very saddened by this,” wrote someone with the handle @MaisieRae.
“We need strong leaders in this country condemning hate crimes or we need new leaders who will,” added @paulshread.
– Last days of Ramadan –
A vigil for the slain girl has been scheduled for Wednesday evening in her home town of Reston.
The attack occurred during the waning days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. In North America, Ramadan is due to end with Eid al-Fitr celebrations starting Saturday.
The teens had apparently gone out to eat at a restaurant before starting their fast at sunrise. Hassanen was reported missing around 4:00 am and the remains were found at a nearby pond around 3:00 pm.
Police would not immediately confirm the nature of the assault and the exact manner of her death, pending a review by the chief medical examiner.
A widely distributed Snapchat photographic montage showed Hassanen, who wore a Muslim veil, smiling and sporting a golden nose ring.
Last month, two men were fatally stabbed in Portland, Oregon as they intervened to stop a man hurling anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab. Another man who tried to halt the attack was also wounded.
In Quebec, six worshippers were shot dead in an attack on a mosque in January.