FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A man charged with murder in the death of a Muslim Virginia teen who was attacked near her mosque became "enraged" by a traffic argument with one of the girl's friends and hit her with a baseball bat before abducting her, police said Monday.
Though the slaying of Nabra Hassanen — whose body was found in a pond — raised concerns that she was targeted because she was Muslim, Fairfax County police spokeswoman Julie Parker said at a news conference that police have no reason to believe that the killing was a hate crime.
"Nothing indicates that this was motivated by race or by religion. It appears the suspect became so enraged over this traffic argument that it escalated into deadly violence," Parker said.
Hassanen, 17, was with a group of as many as 15 teens who had left their Sterling-area mosque between Ramadan prayers to get food at a McDonald's, Parker said.
They were making their way back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society between 3 and 4 a.m. Sunday, some walking and some riding bikes, when the suspect drove up to the group and began to argue with a male teen, Parker said.
The suspect, 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres, drove up onto a curb and the group scattered, Parker said. Martinez Torres caught up with them in a nearby parking lot, got out of his car armed with a baseball bat and began chasing the group, she said.
"His anger over that earlier encounter then led to violence when he hit Nabra with a baseball bat," Parker said. She said he took the girl with him in his car to a nearby location, where she was assaulted a second time.
Authorities later found her body in a pond. An autopsy revealed she died of blunt force trauma to the upper body, Parker said.
During an intense search for Hassanen on Sunday, an officer stopped a suspicious car and Martinez Torres was taken into custody, police said earlier.
Martinez Torres was arraigned Monday and denied bail pending a July 19 court appearance. A judge appointed him a public defender, whose office declined comment. Immigration authorities put a detainer on him, saying he's a citizen of El Salvador and there's probable cause to believe he lacks permission to be in the U.S.
Police announced earlier in the day that they were not investigating the slaying as a hate crime, which provoked deep skepticism among some American Muslims.
Abas Sherif, a spokesman for the victim's family, said Nabra and all the other girls in her group were wearing Muslim head coverings and loose Islamic robes when the driver approached.
"Road rage. Indeed. If you think for a minute that her appearance had nothing to do with this crime, you're lying to yourself," tweeted attorney Rabia Chaudry, a prominent Muslim activist who lives in the Washington suburbs.
ADAMS is one of the largest mosques in the country, and is particularly busy during Ramadan. Observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, and since Ramadan this year overlaps with the summer solstice, and sunrise occurs well before 6 a.m., some Muslims will eat large meals in predawn hours.
Two boys in their group who spoke with The AP after paying condolences to the family Monday said they didn't witness anything to make them think it was a hate crime. They said that when the car pulled up beside them and slowed down, they thought the driver might even be a friend, playing a joke.
When the car hopped the curb, they perceived hostile intent and began to run. The group of more than a dozen kids did not immediately realize Hassanen was missing. Once they did, they told security officials at the mosque, who contacted police. The boys declined to give their names.
The girl's father, Mohmoud Hassanen Aboras of Reston, said his daughter was a friend to everyone. Aboras emigrated from southern Egypt and has three younger daughters, who, like Nabra, were born in the U.S.
He said he was not particularly interested in knowing why his daughter was attacked or whether it could be considered a hate crime. His daughter is gone, regardless.
"My daughter is dead, and I don't want anyone to feel what I feel, to lose your 17-year-old daughter ... Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hispanic, whatever," he said, surrounded by more than a dozen friends and family in his apartment.
This story has been corrected to reflect that two boys, not girls, described the attack to the AP.
Contributors include Alanna Durkin Richer and Sarah Rankin in Richmond.