On Sunday night 16-year-old Nabra Hassanen was walking back to her mosque with a group of friends when a motorist slowed down to speak with them. It is unclear what was said but there was some sort of altercation between the group and the motorist, 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres.
Hassanen’s friends ran the rest of the way back to the mosque, located in Sterling Virginia. Hassanen did not make it back with the rest of the group and was reported missing. Not too long after her remains were found near Torres’s home. She had been hit with an aluminum bat as well as struck by Torres’s car.
At this time the Fairfax County Police Department has stated that they would not be investigating this incident as a hate crime but instead as an act of road rage. Hassanen’s grief stricken mother said what many were thinking when this was announced.
“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.”
This may not have been a hate crime, I can’t speak to what was said by Torres before the crime. I don’t know what was going on in his head. However, to not even attempt to find out if this murder was motivated by race or religion seems like a slap in the face to grieving family members.
Could this have been a truly random killing? Yes, perhaps the group of minors and Torres hurled insults at each other until he was filled with enough rage to take the life of a teenage girl. Maybe one of the teens was blocking the road and that’s what caused Torres to become violent. Maybe nothing was said at all and Torres was simply looking for a victim. I assume the other minors in the group will be interviewed in the coming days and can shed a bit of light on the initial altercation.
Of course regardless of if this is a hate crime or not, it is a tragedy. However, it will add insult to injury if Fairfax investigators dismiss the possibility of a hate crime so easily.
Ignoring just how racially charged our country is right now will not make the problem go away. I understand the impulse to rule out a hate crime quickly as it feels like adding fuel to an already blazing fire. Still, the police department is doing Hassanen family a great injustice by not taking into account the possibility that bigotry played a part in their daughter’s death.