Updated Monday, June 19, 2017, 4:15 p.m. EDT: The Fairfax County, Va., Police Department tweeted Monday afternoon that the case of Nabra Hassanen, a Muslim teen who was killed while walking back to her mosque in Virginia, is now believed to be related to a road rage incident.
A news conference about the incident is scheduled for 6 p.m. EDT at the county police headquarters.
Authorities said Monday that the death of a Virginia Muslim teen, whom they say was assaulted and then disappeared after leaving a mosque in Sterling, Va., is not being investigated as a hate crime.
As the Washington Post reports, police believe that they have found the remains of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of Reston, Va., and have gone on to charge 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres with murder in her killing. The Fairfax County police declined to explain why they were not investigating the death as a hate crime.
Police and an official from the mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS, say that a group of four or five teens had attended late-night Ramadan prayers at the mosque and were walking back from breakfast afterward at a nearby IHOP early Sunday when they were confronted by a motorist. All of the teens but one ran back to the mosque, where the group reported that one girl had been left behind.
“Immediately thereafter, the ADAMS personnel notified both Loudoun County and Fairfax County authorities, who immediately began an extensive search to locate the missing girl,” the mosque said in a statement, the Post notes.
The Loudon and Fairfax police jointly conducted an intense, hourslong search for the girl. At around 3 p.m. Sunday, remains believed to belong to the teen were found in a pond in Sterling. While conducting the search, an officer saw a motorist driving suspiciously near the area and apprehended Torres, authorities said.
Authorities said that they had collected a lot of evidence, but declined to expand on the details of the case.
“I can’t think of a worse instance to occur than the loss of a 17-year-old on Father’s Day, as the father of a 17-year-old myself,” Loudoun County Sheriff Michael L. Chapman said.
The chief medical examiner’s office is expected to confirm the identity of the remains found as well as the manner of death, Fairfax police spokesperson Tawny Wright said.
Nabra’s mother said that detectives told her that her daughter was struck with a metal bat. According to BuzzFeed, mosque officials said that when Nabra and her friends were returning from eating during a break from Ramadan prayers early Sunday, a man in a car jumped out and started swinging a baseball bat at the group of girls.
On Monday, a Twitter account for the Fairfax County police tweeted that the killing was not being investigated as a hate crime.
BuzzFeed reported, however, that police spokesperson Don Gotthardt told the news organization that the investigation wasn’t “as definitive” as the tweet may seem, adding that the tweet could have been “crafted a little better.”
Gotthardt said that police do not currently have information pointing toward a “correlation between the victim’s faith and the crime,” but added that if there were any indication of a “future possible connection to her religion” as the investigation continued, then police would “certainly look into it.”
Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam echoed similar sentiments while urging police to ensure a thorough investigation.
“At this time, Fairfax officials do not have evidence to confirm that this crime was racially or religiously motivated. I urge Fairfax County police to conduct this investigation both thoroughly and urgently as our Islamic brothers and sisters and all Virginians deserve answers,” Northam said in a statement. “Every Virginian should feel safe and welcome in our communities, and no parent should ever have to experience such a heartbreaking tragedy.”
Nabra’s mother, however, insists that religion had to have played a factor in the deadly attack on her daughter.
“I think it had to do with the way she was dressed and the fact that she’s Muslim,” Sawsan Gazzar, Nabra’s mother, told the Post. “Why would you kill a kid? What did my daughter do to deserve this?”