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
Shock. Pain. Confusion. That’s what I felt before I settled into a complete numbness. I knew she was dead but it felt surreal, like I was watching a movie, similar to Fruitvale Station. Even that feeling frustrated me; how is it that in a documentary I can feel the pain and acceptance but couldn’t even do the same for someone I personally knew? At this point, all I wanted to do was feel, but the only thing I felt was guilt. If we had just headed straight back from Walmart instead of going to grab food, we could’ve stopped it. I also felt like I didn’t have the right to be as upset as I was. While I knew Nabra, we weren’t close friends; I saw more of her on Instagram than I did in real life.
In the days before her funeral, I barely stayed at home. I didn’t feel safe. It was way too close to the site of her kidnapping. After Nabra was killed, I was almost always at ADAMS. Soon enough I began to feel again. Waves of grief the size of tsunamis would wash over me. I didn’t always feel it, most of the time I was emotionless, but triggers would break the damn, and the triggers could be anything.
The administration at ADAMS brought in therapists during the remaining nights of Ramadan, but no one wanted to talk or even be there. The floor for the youth was pretty much devoid of older teens. The few that still came were all but forced into a room with the therapist. I remember looking at the 10 or so faces in the room with me and feeling angry. People who were completely unaware of the situation were making completely ignorant and insensitive comments in front of people who knew her. I didn’t want comfort from a stranger I’ve never met or for that very stranger to try to tell me that I’m allowed to feel or that it’s okay. I wanted the events of the last few days to not have happened more than I have wanted anything in my entire life.
The youth director noticed and brought in someone who was in spot similar to ours a few years prior. She brought in Farris Barakat, the sibling and brother-in-law to two of the three killed in North Carolina’s Chapel Hill shooting. He gave us some advice on what it’s like 2+ years later, and stayed a few days after to continue to comfort us.
I couldn’t escape. Nabra became a hashtag. Twitter gave people the platform to say whatever they wanted. Nobody knew that the people with Nabra were extremely young. They are still kids who no doubt already blame themselves for Nabra’s death and didn’t need the internet telling them how they were weak, spineless, wastes of space, and how they should’ve been dead instead of her.
Flowers. The scent of them was everywhere. After news of Nabra’s passing became international, flowers were sent to ADAMS all the time, and it was rare for them not to be there. Some people hand delivered the flowers and almost all of the flowers had uplifting notes on them. My sister and I delivered the flowers and some food prepared by ADAMS to Nabra’s home.
A janaza is an Islamic prayer for the dead and is very similar to a standard funeral. Typically, the more people that pray for the person that passed the better. Both Nabra’s Janaza and burial were on Wednesday, June 21st, 2017, three days after her death.
The night before, my sister and I decided to spend the night at ADAMS to avoid the press and people coming to the next day. It was colder inside than it was outside. There were no blankets. I remember sleeping on the couches and grabbed a cover to keep myself warm but I couldn’t sleep. Hours and hours passed, no matter I just couldn’t seem to force my body to rest. I finally drifted to sleep around 9am, and woke around 11am. I wandered around aimlessly until people started filtering in. I felt completely useless and out of place. I know it was a mental thing and that I could just mourn with everyone there but it didn’t matter to me.
I found Br. Joshua, and pleaded with him to let me do something. Anything. Thankfully, he gave me a task. I was to direct her close friends and schoolmates to a designated spot during the janaza. Slowly but surely, people began to trickle in. It was rare to see any smiles. The air was somber and silent except for the occasional whispers of condolences. Soon enough, ADAMS was packed. Not only was the interior of the building completely full, the entire three parking lots were covered with mats and mourners getting ready to begin prayer. There were thousands of people in attendance, most of whom didn’t personally know her, but they were moved by what happened and they grieved as well. I saw people who I haven’t seen in years. I saw people who most definitely didn’t belong there – people who claimed to be a part of South Lakes just to get a better view. I saw people fighting over the stupidest of things and forgetting that they aren’t there for themselves but for Nabra. Thankfully, most people were being respectful and honored her memory. Prayer happened, Imam Magid spoke, and it was over.
ADAMS provided transportation from the building to the Sterling Cemetery where Nabra was buried. They hired drivers and rented buses to take thousands of people to the burial. It took a few trips but people began to file out of the building and parking lot to the buses. I remember being unable to find my shoes. Someone had either mistaken them as theirs, or intentionally taken them. I took a standard pair of ADAMS flip flops and left. The police had to work traffic, as many of the people who drove had to park farther from the cemetery and walk. A lot of people attended. Since it was still Ramadan and everyone was still fasting, there was a large white tent to provide shade for the elderly, and anyone else who desperately needed it. I was with a group of our mutual friends and the youth director immediately spotted us. She pushed us to the very front so we could view her casket getting put into the ground. It was hard to get through the sea of people; we had to hold hands and move quickly. Once we got reasonably close, I pushed the girls I knew were much closer to her than me ahead of me. I remember seeing a lady pull out her phone and try to videotape the event. I wasn’t the only one who felt that it was inappropriate and she was quickly told to put her phone away.
I like to think that I’m an empathetic person. When someone I care about cries or is upset, the same happens to me. Looking around all I saw was tears. Even the some of the toughest guys that I know were not spared and seeing that made everything I already felt and witnessed that much worse. The burial was no doubt one of the hardest events of my life but I refused to cry. I was exhausted. Soon enough, Nabra was laid in her final resting place. Her friends and family were invited to toss a handful of earth onto her casket. It was silent as her family went first and had flowers, her guy friends next, lastly the girls. After I threw some dirt onto her casket I had to take a break. I was back to feeling overwhelmed.
Soon enough, it was time to go back onto the buses and head to ADAMS before the vigil.