Raleigh vigil held for slain Virginia Muslim teen

RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Farris Barakat spoke at a vigil in Northern Virginia on Wednesday evening for Nabra Hassanen. When Hassanen was murdered during the weekend, Barakat reached out to her family.

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In 2015, Barakat's brother Deah, Deah's wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister, Razan, were murdered in Chapel Hill.

Barakat's family has since turned a home on Tarboro Street in Raleigh into a non-profit called The Light House Project in their memory.

On Wednesday night, it was the site of another vigil for the slain 17-year-old Hassanen.

For Fatema Ahmad, Hassanen's death feels personal.

"It is very tragic, but it's not the first time we're seeing this," said Ahmad, a member of Muslims for Social Justice, who attended the vigil.

The dozens of people standing in the crowd with her believe that Hassanen's death is a hate crime. Police in Virginia say it was road rage.

Police said Hassanen was bludgeoned with a baseball bat early Sunday by a motorist who drove up to about 15 Muslim teenagers as they walked or bicycled along a road. Police said the driver became enraged after exchanging words with a boy in the group. A Hassanen family spokesman said the girls in the group were wearing Muslim headscarves and robes.

After the teen's funeral and burial, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. spoke with The Associated Press about the community's concerns.

Roessler said police have "absolutely no evidence" that her killing was motivated by hate, but he acknowledged that many people still strongly feel that it must have been a hate crime. Virginia law defines these, in part, as crimes that try to intimidate or instill fear in people targeted for their race or religion.

"That's the myth, isn't it?" the chief said.

He urged anyone with evidence that Hassanen's killing was motivated by hate to come forward, and "if evidence develops of a hate crime, I promise we will charge to the highest levels."

Roessler also said police are waiting on the results of forensic tests on Hassanen's body, which was pulled from a pond Sunday, in an attempt to determine whether she was sexually assaulted.

"We're doing a thorough investigation and that's something of concern to us," he said.

While the investigation continues, those at the vigil in Raleigh identify with how familiar Hassanen's day was before she was killed.

"She went with a group of friends from the mosque to get food," said Kashif Osman, with The Light House Project.

The vigil in Raleigh and the one in Northern Virginia were held the same day as Hassanen's funeral.

About 5,000 attended the ceremony in Sterling. Some wore Islamic robes, others wore street clothes. Many left their cars as traffic overflowed and walked more than a mile to reach her mosque.

Hassanen was remembered as a shining example of kindness and openness during the services.

"I think a lot of people are moved across the country," Ahmad said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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