STERLING, Va. (AP) — Whether a mourner in a black robe at a mosque or a soccer mom in a T-shirt and shorts at a community vigil, reaction to 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen’s death carried a common refrain: That could have been my daughter.
More than 5,000 people attended Hassanen’s funeral Wednesday in suburban Washington, grinding traffic to a halt and forcing attendees to walk more than a mile to join the overflow crowd at All Dulles Area Muslim Society, one of the nation’s largest mosques. Another crowd of several thousand attended a community vigil Wednesday evening.
Hassanen, 17, died Sunday after police said she was bludgeoned with a baseball bat by a motorist who drove up on about 15 Muslim teenagers as they walked back to ADAMS Center for pre-dawn Ramadan services. Observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month. With the long summer days, Muslims will often eat meals at unusual hours, and the group of teens had been at a McDonald’s before walking back to the mosque.
Police said the driver became enraged after exchanging words with a boy in the group. On Wednesday, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler said investigators are working to determine whether Hassanen may also have been sexually assaulted and are waiting on the results of forensic tests.
Police have consistently said the incident was a case of road rage, but many activists have said they believe Hassanen was targeted because of her Muslim faith.
Roessler expressed some frustration that the hate crime rumors have persisted despite police efforts to explain what precipitated the incident and what he says a lack of any evidence pointing to a hate crime.
He called the notion that her death is a hate crime “a myth on social media.”
Outside ADAMS Center, people attending the funeral said that regardless of the specific circumstances of Hassanen’s case, it has left them fearful for their families’ safety.
Lamia Sarver of McLean said the tragedy hits home because she has a daughter Hassanen’s age. She’s warned her not to attend late-night Ramadan prayers and services with friends, so she won’t be a target.
“‘Pray at home,’ I tell her,” she said.
Others expressed similar sentiments.
“I have two daughters. He has two sisters,” said Zahid Hassan of Fairfax, who attended services with his son Yasin, and choked back tears as he spoke. “It could have been anybody.”
Shahnaz Aurazaki of Sterling said she lived in the area for 32 years and it was always safe, but “now every day you see something on the news. It’s scary.”
“We came because something very bad happened. We are upset. Our children are not safe,” she said.
Later Wednesday evening, after Hassanen’s burial, a crowd of several thousand gathered at a plaza few blocks from her home for a vigil.
ADAMS Center Imam Mohamed Magid noted the diversity of the crowd Wednesday evening and expressed gratitude “to see we are part of the larger community to stand against bigotry, stand against hate.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who counted Hassanen among his constituents, was one of many political figures who attended. He said the teen’s death has prompted the entire community to rally and that the Muslim community is not alone in its grief.