Maha Elkolalli never met Nabra Hassanen — a 17-year-old girl who was beaten to death over the weekend as she walked back to her mosque in Virginia with a group of friends — but her death has hit the mother of four hard.
“This story absolutely captured my heart,” Elkolalli said at a vigil held Wednesday night in Sunrise. “It hurts. It hurts our community. It hurts me as a mother. It hurts me as an American Muslim.”
Elkolalli was one of nearly 100 people who gathered at the Islamic Foundation of South Florida to pray for Nabra, who was killed early Sunday morning as she and a group of friends returned to Ramadan prayers at their mosque following a pre-dawn meal. Ramadan, the month-long period of fasting and prayer in the Islamic faith, ends this weekend.
The vigil, organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida and the Islamic Foundation of South Florida, came on the same day thousands gathered to pay their final respects to the 17-year-old in Virginia. The daylong funeral began with prayers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, Virginia — where the teens were headed.
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It also comes on the same day that a memorial for Nabra at Dupont Circle in Washington was set on fire. A South Carolina man was soon arrested, according to the New York Daily News.
Police said Hassanen was bludgeoned with a baseball bat by a driver who drove up to about a dozen Muslim teens as they walked or bicycled along the suburban road. Police said the driver became enraged after exchanging words with a boy in the group.
Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, is being held on a second-degree murder charge. Police said he beat Nabra with a baseball bat early Sunday, drove off with her in his car and assaulted her again — they haven't said how — before dumping her body in a pond near her home. His public defender's office has declined to comment, according to the Associated Press.
On Wednesday evening, police said Nabra died of blunt force trauma to the upper body.
While police have said Nabra’s death was the result of a road rage incident, Muslim leaders are urging authorities to look at it as a hate crime. She and the other girls in the group were wearing abayas, a robe-like dress worn by Muslims, and some were wearing headscarves. Her body was found in a pond near the mosque.
“When Muslims are the perpetrators, everyone is quick to judge. But when the tables are turned, it seems like it’s a different story,” said Wilfredo Ruiz, CAIR-Florida’s communications director. “This goes beyond road rage. She was kidnapped, beaten and thrown in a pond. We believe there is more to the story.”
The vigil preceded the mosque’s daily iftar, the breaking-of-the fast meal during Ramadan.
Clergy from different faiths attended the vigil.
“When you see an attack against one community, it has to be viewed as an attack against all communities,” said Randal Cutter, a pastor at New Dawn Community Church in Coral Springs.
Rabbi Bradd Boxman of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland agreed.
“We call on the Old Testament, which says, ‘Have we all not one father that created us?’ ” Boxman said. “God calls on us to be brothers and sisters.”