Killing of Nabra Hassanen

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Killing of Nabra Hassanen
Nabra Hassanen.png
Nabra Hassanen
Killing of Nabra Hassanen is located in Virginia
Killing of Nabra Hassanen (Virginia)
Killing of Nabra Hassanen is located in the United States
Killing of Nabra Hassanen
Killing of Nabra Hassanen (the United States)
LocationSterling, Virginia, United States
DateJune 18, 2017
3 a.m. – 4 a.m. (UTC−04:00)
Attack type
WeaponsBaseball bat
VictimNabra Hassanen
MotiveRoad rage
ChargesSecond-degree murder

On June 18, 2017, Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old American girl from Reston, Virginia, was sexually assaulted and killed.[1] The perpetrator was Darwin Martinez Torres, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who was 22 at the time. He was indicted for Hassanen's rape and murder and subsequently pleaded guilty to both charges.[2] In March 2019, he was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms in prison for the crime.[2] Police classified the killing as an act of road rage, and not a hate crime.[3]


Nabra Hassanen, a Muslim, was a sophomore at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia ready to start her junior year in 2017.[1] On June 18, 2017, during the month of Ramadan, Hassanen was with 15 teenage friends near the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center Mosque.[1] As soon as they got some food from a McDonald's nearby, Hassanen and her friends made their way back to the mosque between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m[4] and came into "a dispute with a man driving a red car"; the man was later identified as Darwin Martinez Torres.[1][5][6]

Hassanen's group of friends scattered as the man drove onto a curb.[4] He then followed them to a parking lot, got out of the car and chased them.[4] When the man managed to reach Hassanen, he hit her with a baseball bat and put her in the car.[4] As Hassanen's friends ran back to the mosque quickly,[1] the man "drove off with her in his car", took her to a nearby location, and assaulted her again (details of the second assault were not revealed).[4][7] After Hassanen died of "blunt force trauma to her upper body",[4] the man dumped her in a pond near his home.[4][7]

Initially, the incident was widely assumed to be an anti-Muslim hate crime.[8][9][10][11][12]


At 4 a.m. of the same day, Fairfax County police started searching for the girl, whose body was found floating in a pond around 3 p.m.[1] The police then noticed a suspicious car in the vicinity and arrested the driver, who was later charged with second-degree murder.[1][7]

The day after the killing, the police stated on Twitter that "they are not investigating the attack as a hate crime".[1] The County police spokeswoman said during a news conference that "it appears that the suspect became so enraged over this traffic argument that it escalated into deadly violence".[3] Since the police believed the killing did not seem to be related by either race or religion, it was considered a road rage incident, rather than a hate crime-motivated offence.[3] Fairfax County police chief Edwin Roessler Jr also told the media that they had "absolutely no evidence" showing the killing of Hassanen was caused by hate crime.[7]

Police and prosecutors believe Hassanen was sexually assaulted by her abductor before she was killed.[13]

The perpetrator[edit]

Darwin Martinez Torres, aged 22, is an illegal immigrant to the United States from El Salvador who worked in construction.[14][15] The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had no previous encounters with Torres prior to Hassanen's killing.[15]

Several days before Hassanen's murder, a woman who was being treated in the emergency room of a hospital in Loudon County told a representative of the County's Child Protective Services agency that Torres had punched, choked and sexually assaulted her; she also told the representative that Torres was a member of international criminal gang MS-13. The woman declined to press charges against Torres,[16] and Fairfax County police said that they have found no "credible information" that Torres had been affiliated with the MS-13 drug gang.[17]


On October 16, 2017, a Fairfax County grand jury indicted Torres on eight counts including capital murder and rape. Prosecutors there sought the death penalty.[13]

Defense attorneys for the accused filed a neuropyschological report that stated he was "likely intellectually disabled" and further evaluations should be held to determine whether he had the mental capacity to face the death penalty. The motion was filed in May 2018, and listed issues such as significant cognitive limitations, poor memory, severely impaired judgement, and functional illiteracy. A separate motion for monthly motion hearings was filed in April by the attorneys, as the accused had difficulty following the legal arguments.[18]

The accused pleaded guilty to rape and murder in November 2018, a plea deal that got him life in prison without parole, but allowed him to escape the death penalty. He was sentenced to eight life sentences on March 28, 2019.[12][2]


The ADAMS Center Mosque told the public in a statement that the community was devastated by the killing, saying "it is a time for us to come together to pray and care for our youth."[1] On the Internet, some people expressed their outrage by criticizing the decision by police not to look into the killing as a hate crime.[3] Isabella Burton of Vox wrote: "Hassanen has become another example of an innocent victim of Islamophobia."[19]

On June 20, citizens of Washington D.C. gathered at the city's park Dupont Circle commemorating Hassanen's death, a 24-year-old man attempted to set fire to a fountain where the memorial took place and was arrested for vandalism.[20] A sergeant later said there was no permanent damage found on the fountain and the police were not sure why the man was around.[20]

On June 21, thousands attended a vigil to celebrate Hassanen's life and mourn her death at Lake Anne Village Center in Reston.[21]

At a preliminary hearing for the accused in October 2017, supports and friends of the victim staged a protest outside of the Fairfax County Courthouse.[22] Friends and family honored Hassanen's 18th birthday by taking part in a charity event and giving back to others.[23]

Questioning nature of crime[edit]

Around 5,000 mourners attended Hassanen's funeral on June 21 and caused a traffic jam.[7] While the majority of the attendees were Muslims, Christians and Jews were also seen.[24] Hassanen's father, Mohmoud Hassanen Aboras, was one of many Muslims who believed his daughter was killed because of her identity as a Muslim[3][25] – when Hassanen was abducted, she was dressed in a Muslim robe known as abaya.[26] A lawyer with CAIR said "Muslim Americans are particularly fearful now."[27]

On the one year anniversary of the murder, members of Hassanen's community continued to question whether this was a hate crime.[28]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mallory, Stephanie; Hughes, Mallory (June 19, 2017). "Nabra Hassanen, Muslim teen, killed after leaving Virginia mosque". USA Today. USA Today. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Bakarat, Matthew (November 29, 2018). "Man pleads guilty in Muslim teen's 2017 death in Northern Virginia". Richmond Times Dispatch. AP. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Police: Nabra Hassanen killed in 'road rage incident'". Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera. June 20, 2017. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Rankin, Sarah; Richer, Alanna Durkin (June 20, 2017). "Nabra Hassanen, Muslim Teen, Was Killed Leaving Mosque Because Of Road Rage: Police". Huffington Post Canada. Associated Press. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  5. ^ Beydoun, Khaled A. (2018). American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear. University of California Press. p. 193. ISBN 9780520297791. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  6. ^ Chemaly, Soraya (2018). Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781501189579. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Nabra Hassanen: spectre of hate crime hangs over teenager's funeral". The Guardian. Associated Press. June 21, 2017. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  8. ^ Shugarman, Emily (June 19, 2017). "Nabra Hassanen's father says she was '100%' killed for being Muslim". The Independent. ProQuest 1911216541.
  9. ^ Suerth, Jessica (June 20, 2017). "Nabra Hassanen's murder highlights the challenges of designating a crime a hate crime". CNN. ProQuest 1916731739.
  10. ^ Eleftheriou-Smith, Loulla-Mae (June 19, 2017). "Nabra Hassanen: 17-year-old Muslim girl abducted and killed on way home from Virginia mosque". TheIndependent. ProQuest 1911210361.
  11. ^ Dvorak, Petula (June 19, 2017). "Nabra Hassanen's death may not legally be a hate crime, but it sure feels hateful". Washington Post. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Chavez, Nicole; DiGiacomo, Janet (November 29, 2018). "Man pleads guilty to rape and murder in killing of Muslim teen attacked near mosque". CNN. Retrieved February 27, 2019. Nabra's death was considered the result of road rage despite claims from her family and her religious community that she was targeted because of her race and her faith..
  13. ^ a b Jouvenal, Justin (October 16, 2017). "Prosecutors to pursue death penalty against man accused of killing Nabra Hassanen". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  14. ^ Sinclair, Harriet (June 20, 2017). "Who Is Darwin Martinez-Torres? Suspect in Murder of Muslim Teen Is Held by ICE". Newsweek. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  15. ^ a b Haag, Matthew (June 20, 2017). "Man Charged With Killing Muslim Teenager Entered United States Illegally, Authorities Say". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  16. ^ Jackman, Tom; Jouvenal, Justin (June 27, 2017). "Suspect in killing of Muslim teen had been accused of a previous assault, report says". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  17. ^ Jouvenal, Justin (June 28, 2017). "Police find no 'credible evidence' that Muslim girl's alleged killer is a gang member". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  18. ^ "Expert: Man set for trial in killing of Muslim teen may be too impaired to face death penalty". Washington Post. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  19. ^ Tara Isabella Burton. "Nabra Hassanen's murder may not be a hate crime. It's still a tragedy for Muslim Americans". Vox. Retrieved June 29, 2017. As a young woman, beloved by her community, Hassanen has become another example of an innocent victim of Islamophobia: a girl who, according to classmates, had "no enemies."
  20. ^ a b Brennan, Christopher (June 21, 2017). "Man sets fire to memorial for slain Virginia teen Nabra Hassanen". New York Daily News. New York Daily News. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  21. ^ Emke, Dave (June 22, 2017). "Large Crowd Gathers at Lake Anne Plaza to Mourn Nabra Hassanen". Reston Now. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  22. ^ "Man faces capital rape, murder charges in death of Muslim teen Nabra Hassanen". USA TODAY. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  23. ^ "On 18th birthday, slain Fairfax Co. teen honored through volunteer work | WTOP". WTOP. April 14, 2018. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  24. ^ Barakat, Matthew (June 21, 2017). "Thousands Mourn Nabra Hassanen, the Virginia Teen Who Was Beaten to Death". The Time. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 22, 2017. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  25. ^ "Muslim leaders question police's claim that killing of 17-year-old girl is not a 'hate crime'". WITW. June 2, 2017. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  26. ^ Shugerman, Emily (June 20, 2017). "Nabra Hassanen: Police investigating whether murdered Muslim teen was sexually assaulted". The Independent. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  27. ^ Antonia Blumberg. "Police Call Teen's Beating Death 'Road Rage.' That Doesn't Sit Well With Muslim Americans". Huffington Post. Retrieved June 29, 2017. Gadeir Abbas, senior litigation attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Muslim Americans are particularly fearful now.
  28. ^ Jacobs, Sally H. (June 10, 2018). "Why Nabra? One year after a Muslim teen's brutal rape and murder, her community is still in mourning—and torn over whether her killing was a hate crime". Slate. Retrieved February 27, 2019.