On Sunday, the body of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen was found in a pond in Fairfax, Virginia. According to The Washington Post, Hassanen, a practicing Muslim, was brutally murdered with a metal bat. Police have since arrested 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres in connection with Hassanen's death, and they released a statement denying that the case is being investigated as a hate crime. Ever since the disturbing and heartbreaking details of the case were released, more information about Hassanen's tragically short life has been revealed. So, who was Nabra Hassanen? Romper has reached out to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and is awaiting comment on Torres' arrest.
On Sunday morning, Hassanen, like many Muslims, was taking part in early morning Ramadan prayers. Around 4:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Hassanen and her group of friends decided to leave their mosque, All Dulles Area Muslim Society, for breakfast at a local IHOP within walking distance. During the group's walk back to the mosque, they reportedly encountered Torres in his car. According to The Washington Post, Torres got out of his car and allegedly brandished a bat at the group of young women. Terrified, the group ran back to the mosque, but Hassanen got left behind after she tripped over her abaya, a traditional Muslim garment she was not used to wearing. After an extensive search later that day, authorities working with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office discovered her badly beaten body. Police subsequently arrested Torres, who matched the description of the man who allegedly harassed Hassanen and her friends. Torres was reportedly found and arrested near where the body was discovered, according to Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.
Although what exactly happened to Hassanen is still being investigated, one thing is for certain — she was deeply loved by her family and friends. Following Hassanen's murder, her mother, Sawsan Gazzar, told The Washington Post:
“Please pray for me, please pray for me. Pray for me that I can handle this . . . I lost my daughter, my first reason for happiness.”
In addition to Hassanen's heartbroken mother, she leaves behind her father, three younger sisters, and a long list of relatives in Egypt. Family aside, Hassanen was treasured by her wide group of friends, the community at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, and by her coworkers at the McDonald's where she worked for a time until she quit over concerns about her job conflicting with schoolwork, according to The Washington Post.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, her former coworker Usman Anwar Khan described Hassanen as "a really nice girl" who "always talked with a smile." Khan's account echoes the sentiments of Gazzar, who described her daughter as a social and friendly girl who had just finished the 10th grade, according to The Chicago Tribune. Gazzar went on to recall how she had cooked a huge dinner for Hassanen and her friends from high school and the mosque the night before she was killed.
The chairman of Hassanen's mosque, Rizwan Jaka, also expressed heartache over the death. In a statement on the mosque's website, Jaka said:
We are devastated and heartbroken as our community undergoes and processes this traumatic event. It is a time for us to come together to pray and care for our youth.
The statement also mentioned that the center will be providing licensed counselors on site to those in need of support.
In light of the tragedy, friends of Hassanen have set up multiple ways to honor her life, including a fundraiser being held on LaunchGood to raise money for Hassanen's family. As of Monday, the fundraiser has raised $142,641 of its $150,000 goal. The fundraising page also mentioned a Quran reading being organized for "Nabra's soul."
In addition to the fundraiser, those wishing to pay their respects to Hassanen can attend a vigil at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, Virginia, on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
Although its heartening to see these acts of kindness follow Hassanen's murder, it's difficult to imagine the hurt her death has caused her loved ones and the Muslim community. It's especially disturbing to consider the murder took place in the last 10 days of Ramadan, as well as during the same weekend as a terror attack against Muslims in London. No one, especially a young woman, should have to attend their place of worship under a cloud fear and terror. Even though police investigating Hassanen's murder don't believe this incident was a hate crime, it's hard not to see the connection.
What Americans should do now is to unite against Islamophobia and defend those subjected to senseless hate. If Americans and citizens across the world do not publicly condemn acts of violence and hate speech against Muslims, it sets a terrifying precent for things to come. Now is the time to act against hate, regardless of your faith. For those looking to help in the fight against Islamophobia, one place you can donate your money or time is the The Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization dedicated to fostering a supportive and safe environment for Muslims in America.