Police blame road rage for killing of teenage Muslim girl
A man charged with murdering a Muslim teenager 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 have said.
Though the killing of Nabra Hassanen - whose body was found in a pond in Sterling, Virginia - raised concerns that she was targeted because she was Muslim, Fairfax County police spokeswoman Julie Parker said officers have no reason to believe it 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," Ms Parker said.
Nabra, 17, was with a group of as many as 15 teenagers who had left their mosque between Ramadan prayers to get food at a McDonald's, the spokeswoman said.
They were making their way back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society between 3am and 4am, some walking and some riding bikes, when the suspect drove up to the group and began to argue with a male teenager, Ms Parker said.
The suspect, 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres, drove on to a kerb and the group scattered, Ms Parker said.
Martinez Torres caught up with them in a nearby car park, got out of his car armed with a baseball bat and began chasing the group, she added.
"His anger over that earlier encounter then led to violence when he hit Nabra with a baseball bat," Ms Parker said, adding that he took the girl in his car to a nearby location, where she was assaulted a second time.
Authorities later found her body in a pond. A post-mortem revealed she died of blunt force trauma to the upper body.
During an intense search for Nabra on Sunday, an officer stopped a suspicious car and Martinez Torres was taken into custody, police said.
He was arraigned on Monday and denied bail pending a July 19 court appearance. Immigration authorities put a detainer on him, saying he is a citizen of El Salvador and there is probable cause to believe he lacks permission to be in the US.
Police announced earlier in the day that they were not investigating the killing as a hate crime, which provoked scepticism among some American Muslims.
Abas Sherif, a spokesman for the victim's family, said Nabra and 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 lawyer Rabia Chaudry, a prominent Muslim activist who lives in the Washington suburbs.
The girl's father, Mohmoud Hassanen Aboras, of Reston, said his daughter was a friend to everyone. He emigrated from southern Egypt and has three younger daughters who, like Nabra, were born in the US.
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."