SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Mourners gathered to pay respects on Tuesday for an Iraqi-American woman who died after being severely beaten in her California home by a killer who left a threatening note suggesting a hate crime, a Muslim rights group said.
Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother of five, was found unconscious in the dining room of her rented home in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon on Wednesday morning by her 17-year-old daughter, police said.
She was taken to a local trauma center with a severe head injury, police said. Doctors took her off life support and she died on Saturday afternoon.
The memorial service for the mother whose five children range in age from 7 to 17 was being held at the Islamic Center of Lakeside, near El Cajon, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Iraqi government representatives were expected to take part, CAIR said.
Alawadi's family was planning to fly her body back to Iraq within the week for burial, according to Sadaf Hane, civil rights director of the San Diego chapter of CAIR.
Police have said they were investigating the killing of Alawadi as a possible hate crime because of a note found near her after the beating that police said was "threatening in nature." Authorities have stopped short of ruling out other scenarios.
If hate is confirmed as a motive in the killing, it would be the worst bias crime committed against Arabs or Muslims in years in the area, Hane said.
A friend of the family, Sura Alzaidy, told the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper the note found near Alawadi read: "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist."
The FBI is assisting the El Cajon Police Department in the investigation, and has provided agents from a squad that is specifically trained to conduct hate crime investigations, according to FBI spokesman Darrell Foxworth.
"We strongly believe that this is an isolated incident," El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redman told reporters on Monday. "There is no free-flowing hostility."
Foxworth also emphasized that the attack was an "isolated incident," but would not comment on suspects or evidence.
El Cajon and nearby areas are home to some 50,000 to 60,000 immigrants and refugees of Middle Eastern descent, police said, but has not seen violent hate crimes in the past.
Silent candlelight vigils were planned in the area by members of a Facebook group 'One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi,' which has garnered nearly 6,500 members.
(Writing and reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Johnston)