The Saturday night scene was dark and chaotic. Cars zipped through a McDonald’s parking lot, weaving around a crowd of people. At about 4 a.m., one man started swinging. Another held him back. Then came the knockout blow that sent a student to the ground, ultimately ending in death.
On Nov. 15, 22-year-old Tugce Albayrak, a German citizen originally from Turkey, stepped in to protect two teenage girls being harassed by three men near a bathroom at a fast-food restaurant in Offenbach, a suburb of Frankfurt. German media reported the men were bounced from the restaurant before Albayrak returned to her friends and finished her meal. When she left a while later, at least one was waiting for her in the parking lot. He was allegedly armed with a stone or a baseball bat, the Guardian reported. The incident was captured on surveillance video posted by German newspaper Bild.
An 18-year-old Serbian man, identified only as Sanel M., was arrested shortly after the attack. He admitted he “smacked the victim in the head,” prosecutors’ spokesman Axel Kreutz told the Associated Press.
Albayrak never regained consciousness and was removed from life support on Friday, her 23rd birthday. An autopsy was expected Monday to determine whether she sustained the fatal injury from the punch or the fall, when she hit her head on the ground.
“Like countless citizens, I am shocked and appalled by this terrible act,” German President Joachim Gauck said. “Tugce has earned gratitude and respect from us all.”
“She will always remain a role model to us, our entire country mourns with you.”
Over the weekend, people across the country held candlelight vigils for Albayrak, lighting candles and laying flowers. Swiss soccer star Hans Seferovic paid tribute, writing the hashtags “civil courage,” “angel,” “courage” and “respect” on the undershirt beneath his jersey. Pictures of the young woman with long black hair and dark eyes spread across social media. More than 100,000 signed an online petition to award her a national medal of honor.
Many now call her a hero.
“I wish to God that our daughter Tugce rests in peace,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said. “She showed great heroism and made a place in the hearts of the German public.”
Albayrak was a student at Justus-Liebig University, a public school in Giessen, where she was studying to become a high-school teacher. Albayrak’s Facebook photo shows her standing in front of a chalkboard filled with colorful scribbles. Since the attack, friends have posted messages in German and Turkish beneath it.
“One day you will stand in front of a black board again and hopefully have your own class in front of you,” one wrote. “You can do it! We believe very strongly in you! you’re a fighter!”
On Sunday, the same friend wrote: “Now you are an angel and you will be with us forever.”
To some, Albayrak is a martyr to the epidemic of violence against women. Globally, 35 percent of women and girls fall prey to physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, with up to 70 percent suffering abuse in some countries, according to statistics released last week by the United Nations to recognize International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Last week, two sisters, ages 19 and 22, threw punches in Haryana, India, to protect themselves from three men who were allegedly harassing them with a belt on a bus. The incident was captured on video that has since gone viral.
Albayrak was trying to protect two girls, believed to be between 13 and 16. Following her death, her father, Ali Albayrak, urged the girls to come forward and speak to police.
“Tugce will not come back, but you owe it to her to speak out,” he said in a statement to Bild. “My daughter saved you, she did everything to ensure that nothing happened to you. She even perhaps died for you. So I appeal to you, please go to the police and make a statement.”
Police later said the girls had been found, but no other details were given.
Albayrak is expected to be buried Wednesday.
“I painfully miss my daughter and her smile,” Ali Albayrak told the newspaper.