FAIRFAX, Va. — Police arrested and charged with murder a man suspected of seizing a Muslim teenager off the street in a quiet neighborhood as she was walking with her friends after grabbing a late-night Ramadan snack.
Nabra Hassanen, 17, of Reston had walked from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., to the IHOP on Leesburg Pike. The group of four or five girls was walking back along Dranesville Road around 3 a.m. when a man drove up to them and confronted the teens. They all began to run, and realized after reaching the mosque that Nabra was not with them.
Fairfax County Police said they and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office “immediately began an extensive search.”
“The police helicopter, K-9 teams and search and rescue teams also responded to search for the missing teen, whom officers believed to be injured. While searching, one officer saw a car driving suspiciously in the area and stopped it,” police said in a press release. The driver of that car, Darwin A. Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, Va., was arrested and later charged with murder.
Around 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nabra’s body was found in a pond in the 21500 block of Ridgetop Circle in Sterling, an area of office buildings near Dulles Town Center. Torres reportedly lives in an apartment complex on the other side of the pond.
Fairfax County Police tweeted this morning, “We are NOT investigating this murder as a hate crime.” They did not elaborate.
Loudoun County police have charged a 22 year-old man with the murder of Nabra Hassanen a teenager coming home from a Ramadan prayer service. pic.twitter.com/Gxr88Tkk4e
— DC Maryland Virginia (@DMVFollowers) June 19, 2017
The Washington Post reported that Nabra’s mother, Sawsan Gazzar, said police told her that her daughter had been struck with a metal baseball bat. The girl wasn’t normally religiously observant but borrowed an abaya from her mother to go to the iftar service after breaking the Ramadan fast as it’s a social time for teens at the mosque. As the other girls in the group were able to run from the man, Nabra tripped over the long abaya and fell; detectives told the mother she was then struck with the bat.
“I think it had to do with the way she was dressed and the fact that she’s Muslim,” Gazzar told the paper. “Why would you kill a kid? What did my daughter do to deserve this?”
The ADAMS Center said it would continue with nightly Ramadan prayers and offer grief counselors for members. “We are devastated and heartbroken as our community undergoes and processes this traumatic event. It is a time for us to come together to pray and care for our youth,” the mosque said in a statement. “…We thank both Fairfax County Police and Loudoun County Sheriff’s departments for their diligent efforts in investigating and apprehending a suspect. We call on law enforcement to investigate and determine the motive of this crime and prosecute to the full extent of the law.”
The area’s congresswoman, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), said in a statement that she was “heartbroken and horrified” by the murder. “We know there is no greater pain for any parent and Chip and I extend our prayers to her family and loved ones at this difficult time and the entire ADAMS Center community,” she said. “We commend the Fairfax County Police Department and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office for their diligent work in apprehending the perpetrator. This case should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
UPDATE 11:30 p.m. EST: Fairfax County Police issued an update today tying the murder to road rage, and confirming that Nabra died from blunt-force trauma.
Police said that in addition to the girls walking on the sidewalk, some other teens were riding bikes on the road’s bike lane on the way back from getting food at 3:40 a.m. “Detectives believe Torres came upon the teens while he was driving. The investigation reveals a teenaged boy on a bike began arguing with Torres. Torres then drove his car onto the curb as the group scattered,” police said. “Witnesses say Torres caught up with them a short time later in a nearby parking lot and got out of his car armed with a baseball bat and began chasing the group. Torres was able to catch Nabra. His anger over the encounter led to violence when he hit Nabra with a baseball bat. Torres then took Nabra with him in his car to a second location nearby in Loudoun County.”
Torres was taken into custody when he was spotted driving the suspect car around the original crime scene at about 5:15 a.m.
Police added that they found “nothing to indicate at this point this tragic case was a hate crime.”
“No evidence has been uncovered that shows this murder was motivated by race or religion. It appears the suspect became so enraged over the traffic dispute it escalated into deadly violence,” the statement added. “If during the course of this ongoing criminal investigation, information or evidence later surfaces that would indicate this was hate-motivated, detectives would certainly ensure appropriate charges are filed.”
The Washington Post further reported that Nabra was assaulted again after she was kidnapped and that police based their assessment of no religious motivation on the lack of “racial slurs” heard by the teens from Torres.
Torres is a construction worker originally from El Salvador and has a 4-year-old son. Immigration officials placed a county jail detainer on Torres, who is due in court next on July 19.