The death of a Virginia teenager who police say was assaulted and then disappeared after leaving a mosque in the Sterling area isn’t being investigated as a hate crime, authorities said Monday.
On Sunday, police found the girl’s remains and a 22-year-old man has been charged with murder in connection with the case.
The mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, and relatives identified the girl as 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of Reston.
Fairfax County police identified the man charged with murder in her death as Darwin Martinez Torres of Sterling. On Monday, they did not release any explanation as to why they weren’t investigating the murder as a hate crime.
According to accounts from police and a mosque official, a group of four or five teens were walking back from breakfast at IHOP early Sunday when they were confronted by a motorist. All but one of the teens ran to the mosque, where the group reported that the girl had been left behind, according to Deputy Aleksandra Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.
“Immediately thereafter, the ADAMS’ personnel notified both Loudoun County and Fairfax County authorities who immediately began an extensive search to locate the missing girl,” the mosque said in a statement.
Loudoun and Fairfax police jointly conducted an hours-long search around Dranesville Road and Woodson Drive in Herndon, which is in Fairfax. Remains thought to be the girl’s were found about 3 p.m. Sunday in a pond in the 21500 block of Ridgetop Circle in Sterling. During the search, an officer spotted a motorist driving suspiciously in the area and arrested Torres, police said.
Police said they collected several articles of evidence but declined to provide further details.
The girl’s mother said detectives told her that Nabra was struck with a metal bat.
“I can’t think of a worse instance to occur than the loss of a 17-year-old on Father’s Day, as the father of a 17-year-old myself,” Loudoun County Sheriff Michael L. Chapman said.
Detectives think the remains are those of the girl, but the chief medical examiner’s office will confirm the identity and manner of death, Fairfax police spokeswoman Tawny Wright said.
Shoyeb Hassan, the co-chair of ADAMS, said that during the last 10 days of Ramadan, the mosque has extra prayers at midnight and 2 a.m., and members frequently go to McDonald’s or the 24-hour IHOP to eat before they start their fast at sunrise, as Nabra and her friends were doing.
The killing rattled a Muslim community in the midst of celebrating Ramadan, a month of religious observance in which adherents fast from dawn to sunset for about a month. The period culminates in the feast-like celebration Eid al-Fitr, which is expected to fall next weekend.
“We are devastated and heartbroken as our community undergoes and processes this traumatic event,” Rizwan Jaka, chairman of ADAMS, said in a statement. “It is a time for us to come together to pray and care for our youth.”
ADAMS is Northern Virginia’s largest mosque and, with 11 chapters around the District and Northern Virginia, is among the nation’s most well-known congregations. According to ADAMS’s website, the Sterling location is 25,000 square feet and can accommodate more than 700 people. It includes a youth weekend school, a gymnasium and multipurpose hall, the site says.
Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer and commentator, said that he and his wife were at the mosque for evening prayers, which ended about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. As they were pulling out of the parking lot, he said, he saw a group of teenagers congregating and talking loudly about going out to eat. The girls, he said, were wearing the abaya, a full-length dress many Muslim women wear.
Police said Monday they aren’t investigating the death as a hate crime, but the issue was on the minds of many Muslims on Sunday.
Last month, two men on a Portland train were stabbed and killed after they intervened to protect two girls who were being harassed with anti-Muslim threats, according to authorities.
Sunday night, a van struck a crowd of pedestrians, including worshipers leaving a pair of mosques in London. Witnesses said the pedestrians were struck as they departed late-night prayers.
The ADAMS Center has a paid armed security guard at the Sterling site, according to Iftikhar. He said many mosques have increased security since six Muslim worshipers were killed at a mosque in Quebec earlier this year.
Nabra’s slaying sent a chill through the community when news spread Sunday.
“People are petrified, especially people who have young Muslim daughters,” Iftikhar said.
Virginia officials condemned the killing Sunday night and expressed condolences to Nabra’s family.
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) said she visited ADAMS Sunday and met with leadership and law enforcement officials.
“We are heartbroken and horrified by the news of the brutal murder of a beautiful 17-year old girl,” Comstock said in a statement.