Clarification: New information in the Shaima Alawadi case.

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.

Apparently, however, new information has in fact emerged, and it does point in a different direction:

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.

I apologize.

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.



  1. You are certainly not the only one initially reporting this as a “hate crime”. But, just as “hate crimes” aren’t the norm in the USA neither are “honor killings” the norm in Islam. Your summary is so true, it is horrible, regardless of who did it! Thanks.

  2. dmf

     /  April 5, 2012

    a wise way to proceed in our sped up soundbyte culture, if we are to get beyond searching for evidence which confirms our biases some due process is of the essence.

  3. Kushy

     /  April 5, 2012

    Next time be a little sceptical before jumping on a bandwagon. When Islam and women are involved honor crimes are far more the likely cause vs. a hate crime. But you have to hand it to Islamic ideologues-they murder one of their own YET manage to get political sympathy out of it

    • I approved this comment only to use it as an example of the kind of comment that will not be allowed on this blog.

      A) The words “honor killing” have not been mentioned by anyone – you have leaped to the kind of Islamophobic conclusion that drove my earlier assumption that this must have been a hate crime B) There have been no “Islamic ideologues” (whatever those may be) involved in this conversation, nor do we (readers or investigators) have any idea who killed this woman — the police have said repeatedly that they have no suspects at this point.

      And if you’re looking for murderous anger and bloody individual acts, we need look no further than all of humanity, regardless of faith or ethnicity – why look, one trip to Google and I found a story of a white man in Lewisville, Texas who murdered his wife just last week because their dog shat in the house: I don’t know what the man’s faith is, but I’m assuming that a 60-something white couple from Texas named Michael and Bernice Stoltz are not Muslims.

      Leave another comment that peddles in bigotry and lies, and it will be deleted and you will be banned.

  4. Kushy

     /  April 5, 2012

    Well, I did warn you, and just to drive the point home, as soon as I saw the words “OMG how can I survive being blacklisted” I stopped reading and hit delete. So yes, OMG YOU’VE BEEN BLACKLISTED and your words were never read by the person for whom they were intended. How ever will you survive? One can only imagine. And wish you the best in your efforts.

  5. When I read that she dismissed the earlier note as a “prank,” I guessed that she thought she knew who had left it – and therefore, it was a distinct possibility that she knew her attacker.

    But you’re not to blame for assuming it was a hate crime. I mean, if this person made it look like a hate crime, it’s because he knew people would find it believable.

  6. Emily, I always stumble over the notion of “hate crime”. When we harm someone by accident or stupidity, see them suffer, feel remorse for our actions, and try to help whom we’ve hurt, we’re increasing our capacity for compassion. When we intentionally harm any person, for any reason whatsoever, it is hateful. We must hate a person first, to demand that they suffer more than us. This is true, whether we seek undeserved family honor, the removal from our sight, of people we find ugly or inconvenient, or that most common of all criminal acts, the taking of money or property that belongs to someone else. Each of these acts require us to value our victim’s life less than our own. And I have yet to hear of anyone who suffered ill effects, from exerting, or receiving, too much empathy. To me, all crime involves hatred. Both the streetcorner bully who beats and robs the widow, and the execs at Enron Corp, who defrauded thousands of investors of their retirement savings, are equally hateful in their disregard for the needs of the people they harm.

  7. We probably don’t agree on everything all the time (but then again who does), but I really appreciate your honesty at all times if that makes sense!

  8. Latifah Azlan

     /  April 17, 2012

    I would just like to say that as a Muslim, honor killings are NOT and have NEVER been a part of Islam and/or its teachings. So to Mary, and whomever else that claimed this, please learn to differentiate between culture and religion, thank you.

  9. veryslowwriter

     /  April 20, 2012

    I did comment at the time (on ABL) that I thought it was hasty to assign a “hate crime” label. If she had been an activist and thereby attacted the attention of nuts — but she wasn’t. The attack was inside her own home and particularly frenzied — both things point to a family member. It sounds jokey but you have to know someone well to hate them that much. That’s why most murders are committed by family members or friends.
    It never sounded like a hate crime. (I never even entertained the idea of a so-called “honor” killing.)
    I’m not surprised at the new revelations — but very few facts are known even now. Perhaps mor will emerge. I’m glad you posed this. I wonder how many other authors of indignant-posts-at-the-time will do the same.