On Sunday afternoon I got a Facebook alert on my phone from a neighborhood group I'm a member of.
"Dranesville Rd closed for missing teen investigation, both directions between Rt. 7 shopping center & Sugarland Rd, Fairfax/Loundon Co border"
The area is just a couple miles from my house. I visit the shopping center regularly for groceries. I scanned the comments and learned the remains of the teen– a 17-year-old girl– from Reston had been found in a pond a few miles away.
Her name was Nabra.
It's shocking when someone so young dies. Shocking when you learn someone so young was murdered. Shocking when you hear she was beaten with a baseball bat. Shocking when it's so close to your home. Because these things never happen so close to your home, right?
Nabra and her friends had been participating in late-night prayers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society about a mile from the shopping center.
The mosque hosts prayers at midnight and 2 a.m. during the last 10 days of Ramadan. Frequently, members stop by the McDonald's or IHOP nearby to eat a meal before fasting begins at sunrise, the Washington Post reported.
"According to accounts from police and a mosque official, a group of four or five teens were walking back from breakfast at IHOP early Sunday when they were confronted by a motorist. All but one of the teens ran to the mosque, where the group reported that the girl had been left behind."
I wonder about the kids who made it back to the mosque. How heavy they must feel today. One minute giggling over a late-night meal over the stuff of high school then terrified by an assailant then ... desolate. They are children no more.
The police arrested a suspect– not much more than kid himself at 22. I find myself making assumptions. Trying to solve the question of motive. They aren't investigating the Nabra's slaying as a hate crime, the police are quick to point out. Clearing up the easiest conclusion to leap to: She was Muslim and so a target.
As if that makes the incident any less unsettling.
Investigators believe there was some type of an argument. Some conversation between this 22-year-old man and a group of teenagers that led to Nabra's murder.
The contents of that confrontation I'm sure will wend its way into neighborhood chatter. Maybe it was road rage, the police say. I don't like to make grand declarations or predictions. But I'll say this– I can all but guarantee whatever was said was not worthy of killing a 17-year-old girl.
While it might not always be classified as a "hate crime," murder is always a crime of hate. Even if it's not hate of a particular creed or race. It's hate of something at the tip of our tongues of buried deep within our hearts. No one extinguishes the bright light of beautiful, vital person out of love.
If love is love is love, then hate is hate is hate.
Today I stopped by my neighbor's house. As part of Ramadan, one of their daughters had organized a toy drive on behalf of Syrian refugees living in Maryland through their mosque. I'd been meaning to drop some items off for weeks and finally got around to it today.
While visiting, I asked if their daughter knew Nabra. They're the same age and ADAMS is the closest mosque. Her mother said she did. Her daughter was really upset.They were all shaken. All shocked. I told them how sorry I was that their community was going through such a terrible ordeal.
The kids always walked to that McDonalds and the IHOP, my neighbor said. I told her they shouldn't have to be scared to walk down a sidewalk to get McDonald's on a well-traveled road. Even if it was late at night. They were in a group. They were going back to their house of worship.
And you know what, even if they weren't in a group. Even if they weren't going to their house of worship. There's no justification for murder.
My neighbor said she'd heard the suspect was drunk. That he was probably a college student or something. He's young, too.
She was distraught about Nabra and her family. I could see her holding back tears even while we talked. But she said there were two families affected by what happened Sunday.
"I'm sure [the suspect's] parents didn't expect they'd have to deal with something like this either," she said.
How beautiful that there can be such grace and love in the aftermath of such hate. I admire that strength. The wisdom of mothers.
Before I left we hugged. I'm not sure whether I was comforting her, or she was comforting me. It was probably both.
The Post interviewed Nabra's mother, who's devastated by the loss of her daughter, "her first reason for happiness."
The reporter described how Nabra's mother had loaned her daughter an abaya– a long, robe-like dress worn by Muslim women– since Nabra didn't generally wear traditional Muslim clothes.
"She heard from a detective that when the man in the car started shouting at the teens, Nabra tripped over the long garment and fell to the ground, just before she was struck."
This image of her last moments haunts me.
I never met Nabra. I probably never would've met her either, had she lived. I don't know her mother or any of her family. Only a few members of her mosque, who happen to live next door. I've only ever driven past the same sidewalks she walked down with her friends.
But I was 17 once. I went on late-night food runs with friends. I wandered dark sidewalks all carefree and giddy. And I'm a mother with two daughters who I look at on days like these, overcome by their sweetness and their fragility while pleading with the creator to keep them safe. To allow me keep them for as long as I'm on this Earth.
And I'm a human being on this planets full of other human beings. And that should be enough to mourn for Nabra. To mourn for her family and friends. It is enough.
Lily just wandered downstairs– we'd tucked her in a few minutes earlier.
"Mom, I want to show you something," she said– cutting off my lecture about how it was bedtime. "I was looking out my window and saw the most beautiful golden sunset. Do you want to see it?"
Of course I wanted to see it.
So Lily and I sat on the driveway and watched the clouds drift and the sky shift from gold to pale pink. We saw blinking fireflies. And heard a bird singing its goodnight song. It started sprinkling so we went inside.
"I just thought you would like it, Mom," Lily told me as I tucked her back in. She knows my heart as I know hers.
The sky is always so beautiful after a storm.
My heart is so small
it's almost invisible.
How can You place
such big sorrows in it?
"Look," He answered,
"your eyes are even smaller,
yet they behold the world.