The death of Nabra Hassanen, a 16-year-old from Reston, VA, coincided with a terror attack targeting the Muslim community in the city of London. The killing was a painful reminder that Muslims, particularly Muslim women, are extremely vulnerable to discrimination and violence. Ahead, we break down everything we know so far about this tragedy and why it's important to talk about Nabra's death.
What happened, according to the authorities
Early on Sunday, Nabra and a small group of teenagers grabbed breakfast at an IHOP in Sterling, VA before they began fasting for Ramadan. As they were walking back at approximately 3:30 a.m., they were confronted by a motorist. An altercation took place and the teens ran to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center. That's when they realized Nabra was no longer with them.
"An investigation determined she was walking outside with a group of friends when they got into a dispute with a man in a car," the authorities' statement reads. "It appears the suspect, Darwin A. Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, got out of his car and assaulted the victim. Her friends could not find her and police were called to help."
According to the police and witnesses' statements, Nabra was missing until about 3 p.m., when her remains were found in a pond about three miles from where the altercation took place. Her mother said she was struck with a metal bat. Police are still investigating the cause of death and Martinez Torres, the suspect, was charged with murder in connection to the case.
"We are devastated and heartbroken as our community undergoes and processes this traumatic event," read a statement by the ADAMS Center. "It is a time for us to come together to pray and care for our youth."
Who was Nabra?
The 16-year-old had just finished the 10th grade at South Lakes High School, according to The Washington Post. (Authorities originally reported she was 17.)
She was described by her loved ones as a popular teenager, a diligent student, and a "daddy's girl" due to her close relationship with her father. Nabra was the oldest daughter in the Hassanen family. Her little sisters are 11, 10, and 3.
A former coworker at a McDonald's restaurant in Reston told BuzzFeed News that Nabra "was a really nice girl" who "always talked with a smile."
Nabra's mother, Sawsan Gazzar, was devastated by the loss. She told The Washington Post she believed her daughter was murdered because she was Muslim.
"I’m sure the guy hit my daughter because she’s Muslim and she was wearing the hijab," she said. "The thing in my head is, why did he do that to us? We’re not bad people. He doesn’t know us. Why did he ever do that? I don’t feel safe at all anymore, as a Muslim living here now. I’m so worried about sending my kids out and their coming back as bodies."
"I want justice. I want to know why he did this to her," she continued. "Why would you kill a kid? What did my daughter do to deserve this?"
Was it a hate crime?
The Fairfax Police Department tweeted Monday morning that it's not investigating the murder as a hate crime. A spokesperson for the department told The New York Times that so far there wasn't any indication that Nabra's killing was related to her race or religion. However, that assertion might change in the course of the investigation.
The Muslim community's reaction to the killing
The murder has shaken the Muslim community in Virginia and throughout the U.S. The reaction to Nabra's killing has been one of absolute heartbreak and grief.
Why we need to talk about Nabra's death
Violence against women needs to be condemned every single time it happens, but Muslim women, along with many women of color, are extremely vulnerable. And it's only gotten worse in recent years.
For example, 69% of women in the U.S who wear a hijab say they have faced at least one incident of discrimination, compared to 29% of Muslim women who do not cover their head.
It's not a stretch to say discrimination can easily translate into violence: A report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent Muslim advocacy organization, found that hate crimes targeting the Muslim community have risen dramatically in the recent years. The report says there was a 44% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S. from 2015 to 2016.
Many recent cases have highlighted this violence. In late May, two men were killed in Portland after defending two women (one of whom was wearing a hijab) from an alleged white supremacist. Last September, two Muslim women in New York City were attacked while pushing their babies in strollers. And in April, women were at the receiving end of anti-Muslim slurs and beaten by strangers in Milwaukee and Los Angeles.
While many of these incidents, including Nabra's killing, have not been investigated as hate crimes by the authorities, it's important to reject the conditions that allow this violence to flourish in the first place.
Here's how can you help
First, consider making a donation to support Nabra's family. You can also seek out organizations that advocate for the Muslim community, and make a donation or volunteer, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council or the Council on American-Islamic Relations. These advocacy groups provide everything from legal help to fellowship opportunities and also are involved in civic work.
If you're not able to donate or volunteer, you can support the Muslim community and Nabra's loved ones by going to one of the multiple vigils that will be held tomorrow in places like New York City or Reston, VA.
Finally, you can always help out by being an ally to Muslim women and the Muslim community in general. In a time when they are particularly vulnerable to violence, discrimination, and damaging policies, it's our responsibility to make sure their rights are not trampled.
"'Ally' is not a cute noun or a hip label — it is a status predicated on deliberate action. Embrace 'ally' as a verb," Zoha Qamar wrote for Bitch Media in 2015. "So work through this alphabet and do all that you can: attend rallies, makes yourself a known ally and supporter, contact your government officials and representatives, teach the children in your life, do your research, and write and speak to your community."
After all, the U.S. Declaration of Independence reads, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
It doesn't matter what political beliefs you hold. If we truly believe that all men and women are created equal, it's time to take a hard look at ourselves and our society to figure out how we can prevent tragedies like this from happening again.