When I first wrote about the bloody murder of Shaima Alawadi in her California home, I hedged my bets a little, and then called it a hate crime:
…leaving room for the possibility of new information, [I’m] not the El Cajon police, and I can go ahead and make the leap of judgment. Shaima Alawadi was almost certainly killed for the color of her skin, the accent in her voice, and most importantly, the scarf on her head. The way in which she worshiped her Maker. And it just makes me ill.
Search warrant records obtained Wednesday in the beating death of an Iraqi-American woman show a family in turmoil and cast doubt on the likelihood that her slaying was a hate crime.
Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was apparently planning to divorce her husband and move to Texas when she was killed, a family member told investigators, according to the court documents.
The records obtained at El Cajon Superior Court also reveal Alawadi’s 17-year-old daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, who called 911 to report the attack, was distraught over her pending arranged marriage to a cousin.
A search of Fatima’s cellphone records shows that while she was being interviewed by investigators hours after the attack, someone sent the teen a text message that read, “The detective will find out tell them (can’t) talk,” the affidavit states.
Alawadi’s death is no less horrible, no matter why she was killed or by whom, and Islamophobia no less prevalent in this country — but the simple truth is that I jumped the gun, in the absence of information. I regret that very much.
To explain my thinking (not explain away the error of judgment): Initially I hesitated to call it a hate crime, because the presence of a single note, reportedly reading “Go back to your own country. You’re a terrorist,” is not actually enough to go on. I wondered if the note might have been placed there in order to throw off law enforcement.
Then I learned that the Alawadi family had just recently moved to their current residence from Michigan, and read that an earlier note with the same message had recently been found outside the house. Given the family’s apparent relative lack of ties to the area, and the apparent fact of an earlier note, I felt pretty confident, and ran with the hate crime assumption.
But you know, when we assume, we really do make an ass out of you and me. We still don’t have all the information, but we didn’t have all the information when I first wrote about the case, either. The old-school reporter in me was warning against drawing too many conclusions, and I ignored her warnings.
When I learn the results of the investigation, I’ll post them here. And going forward, I’ll look not just once, but twice or three times before I leap. And perhaps I won’t leap even then.
Emily L. Hauser has been a freelance writer for 20 years. She has contributed to publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, and Dallas Morning News, covering topics ranging from Israel/Palestine and domestic politics, to women’s issues and the occasional burst of geekery. She is a regular columnist at The Daily Beast’s Open Zion, and blogs at Emily L. Hauser In My Head. Follow her on Twitter at @emilylhauser.
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