Police in Virginia's Fairfax County say that preliminary investigation suggests that road rage, rather than racial or religious hatred, led to the killing of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen.
"It appears the suspect became so enraged over this traffic argument that it escalated into deadly violence," Julie Parker, director of public affairs for the Fairfax police, said at a news conference Monday evening.
Nabra went missing early Sunday morning while she and a group of teenagers made their way back to a mosque after having breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Darwin A. Martinez Torres, 22, has been charged with murder.
The teenagers were walking and riding bicycles back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society at about 3:40 a.m. Sunday, according to police.
Some of the teens were on the sidewalk, and others were in the road. Torres drove up behind the group, began arguing with a boy on a bike and then drove his car onto the curb, detectives said in a statement. The teens scattered, but, police said, the suspect caught up with them in a nearby parking lot, got out of his car and allegedly chased after them with a baseball bat.
Torres caught Nabra and struck her with the bat, according to the statement. Detectives said he then drove her to another location and assaulted her again. Her body was found in a man-made pond a few miles from the parking lot. An autopsy found that Nabra suffered blunt-force trauma to her upper body.
At the news conference, when asked whether Torres said or shouted anything during the altercation with the teenagers, Lt. Bryan Holland said, "There was no indication of any racial slurs or any type of back and forth other than a verbal argument."
"It was just an argument between a driver and a bicyclist that was in the roadway," he said, adding that it's not clear why Torres became so enraged.
But Nabra's father told The Washington Post that he believes she was murdered because of her religion.
"He killed her because she's a Muslim — this is what I tell the detective," Mohmoud Hassanen said. "Why was he running behind the kids wearing Islamic clothes with a baseball stick? Why, when my daughter fell down, why did he hit her? For what? We don't know this guy. He doesn't know us. We don't hate anybody because of religion or color. I teach my kids to love everybody."
Police reiterated during the news conference that the investigation so far has found no evidence that Nabra was targeted because her religion.
"At this point, what we know, is that Torres came up in his car behind this group of teens," said Parker of the Fairfax police. "Some were walking, some were on bikes, got into that argument with a boy on a bike, the group scattered. He drove his car up over a curb, and sort of up a hill, and then around and over into a parking lot, where to the best of our knowledge at this point, he simply caught up with Nabra."
The police statements that Nabra's killing doesn't appear to be a hate crime drew many angry responses on Twitter. Many people saw a parallel with the 2015 killing of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., which police said had been sparked by a parking dispute.
"We understand there has been a lot of misinformation in the case," Parker said. "Our goal at this point, having the suspect in custody, is to ensure that this case is prosecuted properly, and that he gets the punishment that he deserves."