The Northern Virginia Muslim community and grieving high-schoolers gathered on Wednesday to mourn Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old killed while she was walking to her mosque on Sunday with friends.
Dranesville Road, which was largely empty when an attacker beat Nabra there before dawn, was packed with people walking along the same sidewalk to attend her funeral. In traditional Muslim garb and Western attire, they walked and drove from every direction to All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS).
The mosque in Sterling is where Nabra and her friends were returning about 4 a.m. Sunday after going to eat at a nearby McDonald’s before their Ramadan fast that would begin at dawn.
Bright Mylar balloons on Wednesday marked the spot where Nabra was assaulted after a driver in what police have described as a road-rage attack approached the group of teens on their bikes and walking, jumped a curb and, as other teens fled, caught up to Nabra in a parking lot after she had fallen behind, police have said.
Authorities arrested Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, after a Fairfax County officer noticed him circling the site Sunday.
Police said Martinez Torres, a construction worker, beat Nabra with a baseball bat and left her body in a pond near his apartment building. Her remains were found Sunday afternoon.
The brutal assault has alarmed the surrounding Muslim community and reverberated nationally with calls for a hate-crime investigation. A vigil in Dupont Circle in the District on Tuesday night drew hundreds, and hundreds more — many of them young — attended a vigil in Reston on Wednesday night.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh has not ruled out pursuing hate-crime charges if fresh evidence points in that direction.
“We heard about this type of hatred. We never thought it was going to happen in our neighborhood,” said Rhab Saad, who lives in the same apartment complex as the Hassanens. “Muslim kids and Christian kids in this neighborhood grow up together. We’re all family.”
A student at South Lakes High School in Reston, Nabra was known for her enthusiasm for fashion and makeup. Friends said she was always there to listen to them, and she befriended everybody she came across.
The night she died, she had just hosted a big group of friends, both Muslim and non-Muslim, at her Reston apartment for an iftar — the Ramadan break-the-fast dinner.
When Neshanti Morgan transferred from a private Christian school to Langston Hughes Middle School, she knew next to nothing about Islam. When she befriended Nabra, she said, she was so intrigued by her friend’s religion that she wanted to try fasting for Ramadan.
Those school days watching everyone eating in the busy lunchroom while she and Nabra and their other Muslim friends fasted were tough. But Neshanti stuck with it and gained a lasting appreciation for Islam and for the way Nabra shared her culture with her friends.
“She was very, very kindhearted, always smiling, always dancing,” Neshanti, 16, said on Wednesday as she walked into ADAMS, where the funeral prayer service was starting.
Amid a huge crowd of mourners, many of them fasting for Ramadan now, Neshanti said Nabra taught her the value of the difficult, month-long practice. “It’s good how they give up food and water,” she said. “I think it brings you closer to the one that you’re worshiping. It’s not about material things. It’s about focusing on Allah or God.”
Rosy Bhuiyan, who has worked in food service at South Lakes High School for 24 years, said she prayed alongside Nabra in the mosque on Sunday, just before the teenagers left for McDonald’s. Bhuiyan had gotten to know Nabra at the mosque, and said she was always a friendly face when she came through Bhuiyan’s lunch line.
“She would say, ‘Salaam aleikum, Auntie,’ ” Bhuiyan said, using an Arabic greeting meaning “peace be unto you.” “I felt like she’s my daughter.”
Bhuiyan said she always felt safe walking from ADAMS in her hijab, but now she is rattled. “I called my sister. I said, ‘Be careful when you wear the hijab.’ ”
Nabra was the oldest of four sisters, all U.S.-born children of Egyptian immigrants. Her father, Mohmoud Hassanen, said she was especially close with her younger sisters and her parents. Her mother, Sawsan Gazzar, wept Sunday as she told her family in Egypt that her daughter had died.
“Please pray for me, please pray for me,” she sobbed in Arabic. “Pray for me that I can handle this. . . . I lost my daughter, my first reason for happiness.”
Many attendees at Wednesday’s funeral were teenagers from South Lakes, but the vast majority were from the local Muslim community. Many did not know Nabra but wanted a moment together to mourn their communal loss. The overflow crowd prayed in the parking lot, following along as the imam’s voice echoed from loudspeakers.
“It’s not just a tragedy for the Muslim community. It’s a tragedy for all of us. We lost a 17-year-old innocent girl who was loved by so many,” said Misha Yasar, who worships at ADAMS.
Mohamed Ahmed said he wanted the Hassanen family to know they were surrounded by people thinking of them. “I have three daughters. It could happen to anybody.”
And Iman Boshra, whose daughter was one of Nabra’s many friends, remarked on the outpouring of support and concern. “I never saw it like this,” she said. “My kids are scared now.”
Wednesday night, hundreds of people swelled Lake Anne Plaza to share grief and memories. Volunteers struggled through the packed crowd, handing out flowers before Hassanen’s family and friends arrived.
Nazish Khaliq’s children Aleezah, 12 and Zain, 10, held hand-made posters asking for “justice for Nabra” and “no hate.”
“It could’ve been us,” said Aleezah Khaliq, who also attends ADAMS. “I kind of wanted to spread my voice . . . so we can do something about this.”
Nabra’s sister Nour, who is 10, addressed the crowd, standing next to Imam Mohamed Magid from ADAMS. “I just want to thank everyone for your love and support and I just want to say to Nabra that I love you and I’ll always miss you,” she said.
Later, a group of six friends from South Lakes High sang a mash-up of songs that they said reminded them of Nabra, including “How to Save a Life” and “One Call Away.”
As the girls finished with “We are the World,” those watching sang and clapped along.
Ellie Silverman contributed to this report.