The attorney had once been honored for working with victims of domestic violence, but authorities think that on Wednesday she fatally shot her two young sons in their Herndon home before turning the gun on herself.
Noera Ayaz’s husband arrived home Wednesday evening in the deadly shooting’s aftermath and alerted police. Officers found the 42-year-old mother dead in an upstairs bathroom from a self- inflicted gunshot wound, said her brother, Yasir Ayaz.
The apparent murder-suicide involving a woman who spent years advocating on behalf of other women and immigrants and who was active in the Muslim community baffled her family. Police did not publicly name the victims, citing a new law barring them from identifying juvenile victims without a family’s consent. But Yasir Ayaz identified them as his sister and nephews.
“I’ll remember her as well-loved, passionate about people and passionate about law,” Yasir Ayaz said of his sister. “She was a caring person, so it is a mystery as to how this happened.”
Ayaz, who spoke while on his way from Texas to Virginia, said he was not aware of any signs of trouble in the months leading up to the tragedy. His sister’s family lived in a large single-family home among other prominent members of the nearby All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque, where she and her family worshiped.
The ADAMS imam and other officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, but the mosque posted a brief message on its Facebook page saying counselors were available for the grief-stricken.
“We mourn the loss of our beloved community members,” it read. “We take this time to be in prayers.”
Noera Ayaz’s husband discovered the two slain children about 6:20 p.m. Wednesday, police said. A friend who answered his cellphone said the husband was a private person and did not want to speak about what happened.
Fairfax County police said that they are still investigating the events that led up to the deaths. The medical examiner was scheduled to conduct autopsies Thursday.
Ayaz said his sister had a biomedical degree from Brown University and a law degree from Columbia University’s law school. Ayaz said he and his sister grew up in Upstate New York and that she had lived in Qatar before moving to the D.C. area in recent years.
An online article in a Turkish newspaper from 2016 listed Noera Ayaz as the director of the New York-based nonprofit group Women in Islam, which aims to empower women and focuses on social justice issues. The article also said she worked with victims of domestic abuse and helped them obtain legal immigration status in the United States, among other projects. Women in Islam did not respond to requests for comment.
The article said she was awarded the Sanctuary for Families Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Advocacy for her work with abuse victims.
“Noera Ayaz has actively served the American Muslim community for the last two decades,” the article said. “. . . She works hard to empower women and young people in hopes to bridge the gap between cultures.”
She was also listed online as an immigration attorney with the Herndon-based nonprofit immigration group Just Neighbors. Erin McKenney, executive director of Just Neighbors, said they are “devastated.” Ayaz had worked with the group as a contractor for a few months.
“Noera was a beautiful person who adored her children,” McKenney said in an email. “She was an excellent immigration attorney as well.”
Press reports listed her as working with the Council on Islamic American Relations in New York in the early 2000s. Officials with the group in New York said no one currently on staff had been with the organization during that period.
She had also worked as an associate at the law firm of Baker Botts LLP, where she focused on intellectual property. The Turkish outlet, the Daily Sabah, said she had traveled widely in Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Turkey and other countries.
“In the U.S., although there is a democratic governmental system, women are still fighting for equal pay for the equal work they do alongside their male counterparts,” Noera Ayaz was quoted as saying in the online article. “There is also an alarming number of sexual assaults in the workplace. One in six women in the U.S. are the victims of attempted or completed rape in the course of their lives. More than the political system, the underlying attitudes towards women must be respectful and dignified.”
The killings come about a month after another Fairfax County mother was accused of fatally shooting two children. Veronica Youngblood, 33, has been charged with murder in that case.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.