The family of slain Fairfax County teen Jholie Moussa said Friday she had a restraining order against the ex-boyfriend charged in her killing and they consider the slaying to have been the result of an abusive relationship.
The family’s first comments on a potential motive for the January killing came before Fairfax County prosecutors outlined a pattern of violence they said the 18-year-old perpetrated against Jholie, 16.
Prosecutors, speaking during the man’s first appearance in juvenile court on the murder charge, said he had assaulted Jholie after “lying in wait” on one occasion and choked her to the point of unconsciousness on another in the past year. They called it “a pattern of escalating behavior.”
Also on Friday, Fairfax County police held a news conference on the case, saying dive teams were searching an Alexandria-area pond for evidence in the case.
“It was, ‘If I can’t have you, no one can,’ ” Veronica Eyenga, Jholie’s aunt, said of the January killing. “So many of our girls are finding themselves in these domestic violence situations.”
Fairfax County police declined to comment on a motive and prosecutors did not offer one in court. A juvenile court judge set an Oct. 10 trial date for the man and ordered him held without bond at the adult detention center.
The Washington Post is not naming the man because he is charged as a juvenile in the case. The killing happened when he was 17. Fairfax County prosecutors said they probably will move to have him charged as an adult.
Eyenga said she was unsure how long Jholie had dated the suspect, but they had met at Mount Vernon High School, where Jholie was a 10th-grader. Eyenga said her niece loved the suspect “once upon a time,” and the family thought he had loved her. She said she wished the suspect had gotten help for his problems.
“It’s comforting to know that someone is being held accountable for what he did to Jholie,” Eyenga said. “It’s both a comfort and a pain, since we have to relive her killing all over again.”
At the news conference, Fairfax County Police Maj. Rich Perez declined to discuss what evidence divers were searching for in a neighborhood pond near the corner of Pondside Terrace and Pole Road, but the location is only about a mile from where Jholie’s body was found and not far from the suspect’s home.
Jholie was last seen leaving her home in the 4200 block of Sonia Court about 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 12, according to a post on Facebook by her mother. She told her sister that she would be right back but didn’t text again until about 8 p.m. to say she was going to a party in Norfolk. That was the last time her family heard from her.
Her family reported her missing the next day, sparking a search. Police said they had no indication at the outset of the case that Jholie was in harm’s way, but the family has criticized authorities for not taking their claims that she was in danger more seriously.
Days later, police upgraded her situation to endangered after authorities uncovered undisclosed information that led them to conclude she might be in trouble. During the course of the investigation, police said they found that Jholie’s ex-boyfriend had assaulted her; he was arrested.
Police discovered Jholie’s body on Jan. 25 off a path in Woodlawn Park, which Perez said they had searched three or four times previously, including on the weekend that Jholie was reported missing. Police said for the first time Friday that her body was discovered in a shallow grave.
Police said the suspect, who is from the Alexandria area of Fairfax County, lived a short distance from Woodlawn Park. The man was named as a person of interest in Jholie’s killing after her body was found.
A Virginia medical examiner attributed Jholie’s death to asphyxiation and blunt-force trauma.
“We did everything possible to find Jholie,” Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. said at the news conference.
Roessler took the unusual step of criticizing a new Virginia law that bars police from naming juvenile victims of crime unless authorities get the consent of parents. County police officials said it took hours to get parental consent to disclose Jholie’s name after her body was discovered.
The delay didn’t hinder the investigation, but police officials said it keeps them from being transparent with the community and hurts grieving families. Roessler said the law should be changed.
“Unfortunately, we had to go to the family and seek written consent [to release Jholie’s name],” Roessler said. “This was a family that was suffering. . . . We are in the position of re-traumatizing families across our jurisdiction.”
Police said the suspect was arrested Thursday shortly after he was released from serving a sentence in one of the previous attacks on Jholie. Prosecutors said in court Friday he had cut off an electronic monitoring bracelet while previously on home detention in another case.
The man’s family could not be reached for comment, and the Fairfax County public defender representing him declined to comment on the case.
Eyenga said Jholie’s family has formed an organization called Not a Runaway, which is working to create an Amber Alert-type warning for children who have disappeared but there is not immediate evidence to show whether they were abducted. An Amber Alert is only triggered in cases where there is a reasonable belief of an abduction.
Eyenga described Jholie as a “goofy child” who was always laughing, dancing and singing. Members of Jholie’s family attended the police news conference, and some wore T-shirts that read “#justice4jholie.”
Eyenga said her niece’s death was like losing a daughter.
“I thought I had a purpose before, but my purpose is to prevent other Jholies,” she said.