On November 28th, 2018, Darwin Martinez Torres plead guilty to capital murder charges. Park View student Alaa Wedaa was at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque the night her friend Nabra Hassanen was abducted and brutally murdered.
In this three-part series, Alaa Wedaa gives a gripping account of the night and aftermath of Nabra Hassanen’s death.
By Alaa Wedaa
The night of June 17th, 2017 is a night I will never forget. Usually when something bad is about to happen in my life, a sense that something is going to happen, like the anticipation you get when you’re watching a horror movie. It’s also similar to a sense of dread; a weight on my back, chest, and shoulders. The feeling that someone is right behind you, or is creeping up on you to whisper in your ear. It has happened all the times I’ve been caught in a lie, or anything worse, for as far back as I can remember. Last summer, on the 15th and 16th of June, I got that sense. On those two days, the sensation lasted longer than any other time in my lifer, and I did not want to go to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque at all to partake in the nightly activities for Ramadan, the holy month. I chalked it up to hunger while fasting, and continued to head the mosque. For those two days, everything was fine. That feeling I felt was gone by the 17th, but I shouldn’t have forgotten it.
On the night of Friday June 16th, there was a Sister’s Qiyaam at ADAMS. Qiyaam is the night during Ramadan where all the teenage girls (ages 13-19) spend the night doing activities like ping pong, board games, sharks and minnows in the gym, a mini lecture, hide and seek, and more. This program was exclusively for the youth to have a night of fun during Ramadan. I spent the night playing a little bit of ping pong and UNO with some of my friends that I don’t get to see very often. At around 3:30am, we stopped to eat and drink before we had to start fasting again.
Saturday the 18th had officially arrived. I fasted as usual, broke my fast around 9 PM, and went to ADAMS. I walked upstairs to the third floor, over to the newly made youth area. As I entered, I was stopped by an old friend who I hadn’t seen in about a year due to mutual business. Her name was Nabra Hassanen. She was 17 years old and had just finished her sophomore year at South Lakes High School in Reston. She was wearing a turquoise colored abaya with gold embroidery, a gold scarf, and her glasses. She looked beautiful. We hugged, made small talk, and promised to hang out later in the night.
That was the last time I saw her alive.
Later that night was Brother’s Qiyaam, so the women had to leave the top floor around 11:30 PM. Usually, the women have to clear the entire building and premises for Brother’s Qiyaam, but Qiyaam landed on one of the last ten nights of Ramadan. During the last ten nights, people stay overnight at the mosque to pray, and youth usually lounge with their friends. I went downstairs and ran into a couple of friends, Noor and Aleena. They were both close to Nabra. We ended up going to the 7-Eleven close by with Aleena driving. When we got back to ADAMS, we just relaxed.
Around 2:45 AM, we left ADAMS again to get food at Walmart. As we were leaving, we saw a group of teens walking through the parking lot with Nabra. We paid them no mind, because it was assumed that someone was going to drive them. We left Walmart, went to McDonalds and returned around 3:40am. Upon entering the parking lot, the same group of teens we saw walking out were running back towards the mosque.
As soon as the car was parked, Noor and I left and went to see what was happening because the group had amassed at the front of the large stairs, and were talking at a pace so fast that it was barely understandable, absolutely shocked, with members at ADAMS. I quickly spotted someone I knew and urged her, in Arabic, to tell me what happened.
“Nabra’s been kidnapped,” she said, looking like she couldn’t even think to believe the words that were coming out of her own mouth.
Confused, I asked her to repeat herself, and she told me what had happened. I quickly asked if they called the police yet. They hadn’t. Noor called the police while some of the ADAMS officials took some of the kids and went to go start the long search.
I wanted to help search, as the kidnapping took place next to my house. I was familiar with the area, but my sister told me I had to stay at ADAMS for my own safety while she and Aleena and Noor’s older sisters went to go drive around. Although I protested hard, my pleas fell onto deaf ears.
I was determined to do something.
I did stay at ADAMS, but I used that time to get as much information out of the teens that were with her as possible. I was asking about the color of the car, the model, if it had old or new headlights, the color of headlights, anything I could think of that could possibly prove useful to finding Nabra.
The group of teens and Nabra were walking back from McDonalds when a red car pulled up behind them and was slowly driving at the same speed as they were walking. Someone in the group started to argue and curse, asking the man in the car what he wanted. No reply. A couple of seconds later, a Hispanic man with spiky gelled hair ran his car up on to the curb near the group, sending them running. He quickly backed up and took the nearest right while the teens regrouped and walked again, thinking they were safe since the man had left their sight.
Unbeknownst to them, the man wasn’t planning on leaving them alone. Instead, he pulled into the nearby Bowl America parking lot and parked. He exited his car, chasing after the passing group with a metal baseball bat. He rapidly caught up to them and terror seized the teens. It quickly became a matter of life or death, the fight or flight instinct kicked in, and the group got separated. They ran as fast as they could to ADAMS.
Nabra was left behind.
My friends and I ended up getting a witness and friend of mine to help the police. I remember being angry and in disbelief, but on the inside of ADAMS no one knew what was happening. To them, it was a normal day. I was angry that no one knew that she was gone.
ADAMS officials ended up announcing her kidnapping about an hour later.
Chaos ensued. My mom caught me at the base of the stairs on her way out the double doors and grabbed me, demanding we went home, only I didn’t want to leave. I needed to stay and support some of my friends who were closer to Nabra than I was. I needed to stay and get updated on what was happening, and whether they found her or not. I just couldn’t leave.
Unfortunately, again, my pleas fell upon deaf ears. My mom was yelling at me, asking where my sister was. I was in tears. We drove home. My mom dropped me off and went to go find my sister. I quickly called my sister and warned her about my mom’s frazzled state. My mom ended up calling me about five minutes later and told me to get ready to see something.
I got into the car as soon as it pulled up, and we drove to the corner of Dranesville and Sugarland Rd. The road was cut off by cop cars. Standing at the corner was a large group of people, both teens and adults. The teens were staring across the street. Sitting on the curb in handcuffs, rocking side to side slowly was a man that appeared to be Hispanic with spiky gelled hair, wearing a dirty wife beater.
“That’s him, He’s the one who did it.”
Everyone was yelling. I stared at him. He was short looking with jet black hair. His white wife beater was stained. He was staring right back at us, with no emotion on his face. No regret, no guilt, nothing to acknowledge what he had done.
After a while, Br. Joshua Salaam, the old youth director and current chaplain of the ADAMS Center, told us to return to the mosque, which was surrounded by security and to wait for updates on Nabra’s kidnapping there. My mom grabbed my sister and I, forcing us to go home. I was confused as to why I should even contemplate going home, which was so close to the kidnapping with barely any security, instead of ADAMS, which was filled with police and was the safest place I could be at that moment.
That morning, I was madder at my mom than I have ever been in my life. She was being unreasonable and I could not stand it. She was attacking my sister and I for things we did that we normally do, like leaving the mosque to go out to eat before fasting, wanting to stay longer, things that she wouldn’t be mad at any other day. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized that what happened to Nabra reminded my mom about a traumatic event in her life that she received therapy for over the course of many months: my sister’s kidnapping as a child in Kenya.
We got home around 5:30 AM. For the next couple of hours, my sister and I were in periods of shock, pain, hopefulness, and tears. Neither of us could sleep. I was texting everyone asking for updates and she was doing the same.
The first text said the police found her glasses, her slippers, and the baseball bat that had blood on it. My sister and I burst into tears. The only other thing we could hear other than our own cries was the constant thumping of the helicopter that was searching for Nabra, flying over our heads.
Reflecting on that day, my sister and I were not prepared for the news, as we were blinded with hope and faith that Nabra was alive and was simply hiding somewhere in the woods, scared for her life. It didn’t cross our mind that her body was no longer warm and pumping blood, but cold and still.
I ended up falling asleep from exhaustion around 10 AM. I was awake for over an hour when my mom burst into the house around 1 PM. All I remember was her saying to get ready to go to ADAMS right away. My sister must have gotten a text, giving her a heads up to the news we would receive officially at ADAMS, and she started wailing.
Upon turning onto Sugarland Rd., where ADAMS is located, we immediately saw hordes of press. It was hard to miss them; they were everywhere, with cameras and mics, trying to interview the grieving people. At ADAMS, the police told us not to speak to the press and give away details about the open case. We parked and entered the building. It was quiet. Everyone was in the gym on the second floor. I walked in and immediately noticed the dozens of people sitting on the carpet-covered floor of the gym. In the center of the room surrounded by friends and family was Nabra’s Mother, Sawsan. I recognized some of my friends who also go to South Lakes High School in Reston.
I walked over and tried to comfort them. The room was quiet except for the occasional sniffle.
After a short period, a police officer came in with news about Nabra. Both her parents stood up, anticipating the news. The room went silent. The officer asked her parents to step out of the gym. The feeling of dread came back in full force.
A minute or so passed and the silence was broken. Sawsan screamed. Understanding the implications, cries broke out in the room.
Nabra was officially declared dead.
My friends and I cried. After returning to the room, Sawsan was surrounded by people. She fainted and fell to the floor. I remember screams, cries, and people hurting. People gathered and prayed in the center of the gym, abd in the middle of the group, Sawsan awoke and continued her earth-shattering wails. After a while, I had to step out. I felt like I was drowning in emotions that I didn’t want to feel; it overwhelmed me. I needed to escape it or I felt like I would lose my mind. I walked down the steps where, 10 hours prior, I had first learned of Nabra’s kidnapping. I felt numb. My sister and her friends joined me after a while.
We sat in silence. A moment of silence for Nabra.
We re-entered the gym, and I left almost as soon as I went in. I went upstairs and sat in one of the big rooms upstairs. A couple of my and Nabra’s mutual friends joined me. We were all still fasting, even throughout the tears, we had yet to eat or drink. Exhausted by the last twenty-four hours, we moved to the youth room bringing couch covers to use as blankets. From 6 PM to 9 PM. We slept on carpeted ground.
The chaplain’s wife, Salwa, woke us up after she noticed we were not outside breaking our fast. Not one of us had an appetite with the death of Nabra lingering around us. She brought us food and watched us break our fast before leaving. For the rest of the night, we sat and slept in a numbed silence.
June 18th to me, is pain personified.
Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon.