Police: Road rage blamed for killing of Va. Muslim teen

WASHINGTON — Police say road rage led to the death of a 17-year-old girl who was walking to a Sterling mosque after a pre-dawn trip to McDonald’s with a group of other teens early Sunday morning.

The Fairfax County police identified the girl as Nabra Hassanen, of Reston, on Monday evening.

Darwin A. Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, has been charged with murder in the girl’s death. Police said Monday evening that he assaulted Hassanen twice, including with a baseball bat. He was arraigned Monday in Fairfax County and ordered held without bail pending a July 19 court appearance.

In a news conference Monday evening, the police said up to 15 teenagers, including Hassanen, were walking and riding bicycles on Dranesville Road at about 3:40 a.m. Sunday. They were headed from a nearby McDonald’s back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque, or ADAMS Center, on Sugarland Road in Sterling, where they were taking part in an all-night sleepover event.

Torres drove up to the teenagers and got into an argument with one of the boys, whose bike was in the roadway, said police spokeswoman Julie Parker. The group scattered as Torres allegedly drove his car up on a curb chasing the teenagers.

The police said that witnesses reported seeing Torres catch up with the teenagers in a parking lot, get out of his car and chase the teens on foot with a baseball bat. Police say he caught up to Hassanen, who was on foot, hit her once with the bat, then took her in his car to Loudoun County.

The other teens returned to the ADAMS Center, and someone called 911 to report the girl missing, police said. Police discovered what were believed to be her remains in an office park pond in Loudoun County Sunday evening.

The police said Monday evening that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the upper body. They added that one of the two assaults happened in Loudoun County.

This undated image provided by the Hassanen family shows Nabra Hassanen in Fairfax County, Virginia. (Courtesy Hassanen Family via AP)

The case may be prosecuted in Loudoun County “due to elements of the various crimes and where they occurred,” Parker said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that Torres is a citizen of El Salvador, and that they’ve lodged a detainer on him. “ICE lodges detainers on aliens who have been arrested on local criminal charges when the agency has probable cause to believe an alien is removable from the United States,” they said. “Mr. Martinez Torres has no prior encounters with ICE.”

The attack happened during Ramadan — the month when observant Muslims fast between sunrise and sundown — sparking fears that the girl was targeted. But the police said detectives had found no evidence that the teen was killed because of her religion.

“There is nothing to indicate at this point this tragic case was a hate crime,” Parker said. “No evidence has been recovered that shows this murder … was motivated by race or by religion. It appears the suspect became so enraged over this traffic argument that it escalated into deadly violence.”

The girl’s father told The Associated Press that he doesn’t understand how this could have happened, because, he said, his daughter was a friend to everyone.

Police Lt. Bryan Holland said there was no indication of racial slurs “other than a verbal argument. … It was just an argument between a driver and a bicyclist who was in the roadway.”

Holland said Torres didn’t give any indication as to why he was so enraged.

The ADAMS Center — one of the largest mosques in the country — referred to the girl as “our dear daughter, sister and friend.”

“We are devastated and heartbroken as our community undergoes and processes this traumatic event. It is a time for us to come together to pray and care for our youth,” the center said in a statement.

Police said there was no known relationship between Torres and Hassanen, or any of the other teens.

“How can I even begin to convey our sadness and sorrow at the loss of a beautiful young girl, whose death has come not only too soon, but in the most tragic and brutal means possible,” Deputy Police Chief Tom Ryan said.

“I can assure you that justice cannot bring Nabra Hassanen back, but justice will be done.”

To the Muslim community, and the community as a whole, Ryan said, “When crimes such as this occur, our officers take it personal.” He added the police department is grieving with Hassanen’s family.

He assured the county’s residents that “you can rest assured that everything should be done in this case will be done.”

He said the question of where to prosecute the case is “a matter under discussion” with commonwealth’s attorneys — Ray Morrogh of Fairfax County and Jim Plowman of Loudoun County.

Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, recounted a “very moving” visit to the ADAMS Center, which she called “a pillar in our community” and “a place where law enforcement comes regularly  … to be there as a friend, and to make sure that that community knows that when there is trouble, when there is unrest, they can consider our Fairfax County police … there to protect their interests,” adding that she felt the same was true of Loudoun County.

Bulova said that a vigil would be held Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Lake Anne Plaza, in Reston, sponsored by the South Lakes High School Muslim Students Association.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo and Neal Augenstein, and The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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