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Ex-boyfriend of Fairfax teen admitted strangling her, detective testifies

Nebiyu Ebrahim expected to argue with his former high school sweetheart when they met up near a Fairfax County park in January, but what transpired was far darker, a detective testified Friday.

Ebrahim, then 17, had previously been convicted of assaulting Jholie Moussa, 16. He was removed from the high school they both attended and placed in an alternative school. The move upended his life.

So when Moussa described how she was attending a party later that night, he argued with her about how he couldn’t have those experiences anymore, Fairfax County Police Detective Brian Byerson testified. Then, as they walked down a path in the Mount Vernon area’s Woodlawn Park, she tried to nudge him and stumbled.

“At that point, he describes to me he places her in what he described as an MMA-style chokehold,” Byerson told a Fairfax County judge.

Moussa lost consciousness, Byerson testified. Ebrahim then laid her down on the path and choked her again with both hands. Finally, he propped her body up in a sitting position and choked her a third time for three to five minutes, the detective said. She was soon dead.

The chilling details came Friday during a preliminary hearing for Ebrahim, 18, in a Fairfax County juvenile court. A judge found probable cause to forward the first-degree murder case to a grand jury. Ebrahim was initially charged as a juvenile but will stand trial as an adult and could face life in prison.

Moussa’s family reported her missing the next day, generating media coverage and a search by police that ranged across Fairfax County and up and down the East Coast.

It turned out the 16-year-old never left Woodlawn Park. Byerson testified Ebrahim dragged her body off the path and covered her with some leaves at the base of a tree. He returned later that night and scraped a shallow grave with a butcher knife. Police would find the body there during a search of the park two weeks later.

Moussa initially left her home in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County at about 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 12, telling her sister she would be right back, according to a post on Facebook by her mother. She texted the sister at about 8 p.m. to say she was going to a party in Norfolk. Her family never heard from her again.

After Moussa’s disappearance, police interviewed Ebrahim, who told investigators his relationship with the teenager had grown “cold” and they no longer spoke, according to a search warrant. But he also admitted to strangling Moussa on another occasion and requesting information from a friend about how to hide a body.

Following the interview, he was charged in connection with the earlier strangling incident and was later convicted in juvenile court. After he was released from serving his sentence in juvenile detention, he was arrested and confessed to killing Moussa, Byerson testified.

Moussa met Ebrahim at Mount Vernon High School and they had dated for a time, before the relationship soured.

“It was, ‘If I can’t have you, no one can,’ ” Veronica Eyenga, Moussa’s aunt, told The Washington Post in August. “So many of our girls are finding themselves in these domestic violence situations.”

Family members who attended Friday’s hearing declined to comment, as did Ebrahim’s public defenders, who offered no defense of him in court.

Moussa’s family has formed a nonprofit group called Not a Runaway, which is working to create an Amber Alert-type warning for cases in which children have disappeared but there is not immediate evidence to show whether they were abducted. An Amber Alert is triggered only in cases where there is a reasonable belief of an abduction.

Her relatives think such a warning might have saved the girl’s life.