Killing of Muslim teenager not being investigated as a hate crime, police say – Washington Post

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The killing of a Muslim teenager in Virginia is being investigated as a road-rage incident, Fairfax County Police said Monday.

Police say the suspect, Darwin Martinez Torres, was driving as a group that included Nabra Hassanen was walking and riding bikes in and along the road. “Our investigation at this point in no way indicates the victim was targeted because of her race or religion,” police said in a statement.

Police planned a news conference later today to discuss the case.

On Sunday, police found the girl’s remains after the mosque had reporting her missing and Torres, 22, has been charged with murder in connection with the case.

Relatives identified the girl as Nabra Hassanen of Reston. Prosecutors said Nabra was 16-years-old, but police had initially said she was 17.

Relatives identified the slain teen as Nabra Hassanen, 17, right, of Reston. (All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center)

On Sunday night as family and friends gathered, Sawsan Gazzar the teenager’s ’s mother, said, “pray for me that I can handle this. … I lost my daughter, my first reason for happiness.”

Torres was held without bond following a brief arraignment Monday in Fairfax County juvenile court. All cases involving juveniles are heard in juvenile court in Virginia, even if defendants are adults.

Appearing on a video monitor from the county jail, Torres spoke through a Spanish translator to answer a judge’s questions. He was appointed a public defender and his next court appearance was set for July 19.

Fairfax County prosecutors offered no new information about the case during the hearing and declined to comment afterward.

Police had initially said a possible hate-crime motivation was among the things authorities were investigating. But that changed Monday when they posted a message on Twitter saying they were not investigating the case as a hate crime. Authorities did not immediately elaborate on that statement.

The chief medical examiner’s office will confirm the identity of the remains and manner of death, Fairfax police spokeswoman Tawny Wright said Sunday.

Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, has been charged in the teen’s death. (Fairfax County Police)

According to accounts from police and a mosque official, a group of four or five teens was walking early Sunday from breakfast at an IHOP — where they had headed after leaving a mosque — when they were confronted by a motorist, now identified by police as Torres. All but one of the teens ran to the mosque in Sterling called the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), where the group reported that Hassanen had been left behind, according to Deputy Aleksandra Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.

An aunt of Martinez Torres, who declined to be identified and was at court, said the family is shocked and mystified about charges against their relative.

The aunt said Martinez Torres was at a Sterling park with her mother, hours before the incident. She said Martinez Torres left the park at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday to head home.

Family members of Torres said he worked in construction. He has a four-year-old son and a girlfriend and is originally from El Salvador. He attended school briefly in the U.S.

The aunt said she believed Torres did not know Nabra adding that family members also did not know her.

“I can’t believe it,” the aunt said. “He is nice with my mom. He is nice with my family. He’s a nice dad.”

No one responded Monday when a reporter visited a home address associated with Martinez Torres.

Officials at the mosque notified police about the missing girl and Loudoun County and Fairfax County authorities began an extensive search, the mosque said in a statement.

The two agencies conducted an hours-long search around Dranesville Road and Woodson Drive in Herndon, which is in Fairfax. Remains thought to be the girl’s were found about 3 p.m. Sunday in a pond in the 21500 block of Ridgetop Circle in Sterling. During the search, an officer spotted a motorist driving suspiciously in the area and arrested Torres, police said.

Police said they collected several articles of evidence but declined to provide further details.

The girl’s mother said detectives told her that Nabra was struck with a metal bat.

In a neighborhood full of Muslim immigrant families, the victim’s modest Reston apartment was the one overflowing with friends and laughter most days, friends said Sunday.

“It’s a family where if you’re feeling down and you need to laugh, this is where you go,” said Samar Ali, 26, who grew up in the Hassanens’ apartment complex.

On Sunday night, that apartment normally filled with laughter was crammed with more than 30 women in traditional Muslim garb, sobbing and comforting one another. At the center of the crowded, dimly lit living room was the victim’s mother.

They described the young victim as a quiet girl who did not talk back.

“If you’re talking about sweet, she’s the definition of sweet,” said Samar Ali, 26, who grew up in the same apartment complex as Nabra.

Neighbors described the teenager as unusually respectful, calling older neighbors “sir” and “ma’am” and helping watch small children, at home and at her mosque.

“Nabra’s personality, she gets scared very easily,” said her mother, Sawsan Gazzar. “Nabra doesn’t even fight with her sisters. She’s very scared.”

In conversations with detectives, the victim’s mother said she was told the driver shouted at the teens, then threw glass beer bottles at them.

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