Source of note sought in Iraqi-American death case
EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) — Police investigating the beating death of an Iraqi-American mother of five sought clues at the troubled family's home to try to identify the source of a note that fueled international speculation the killing was a hate crime, according to sealed documents inadvertently released by court staff.
The daughter of 32-year-old victim Shaima Alawadi told reporters after the March 21 attack that she found a note near her mother that told the family to go back where they came from. Her comments sparked international outrage and speculation the attack was motivated by hatred.
According to an 11-page search warrant affidavit obtained by U-T San Diego, detectives did find a handwritten note at the scene, but forensic analysis indicated it was a copy and it was torn. The affidavit did not say what the note said but indicated detectives wanted to search the house for paper stock that could match the type of paper the note was written on.
Authorities also say they are seeking "any handwritten or typed notes that may contain threats or hate-crime related content ... and torn paper that can be compared to the torn paper note collected from the residence."
The documents were inadvertently released Wednesday when court staff misinterpreted which documents were to be sealed, said Karen Dalton, spokeswoman for the San Diego Superior Court.
El Cajon police have said the note indicated the possibility of a hate crime, but investigators have stressed they are exploring other possibilities.
According to the records, a relative of Alawadi said she planned to divorce her husband and move to Texas.
The documents also show the woman's 17-year-old daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, was distraught over her pending arranged marriage to a cousin. In November, the teen jumped from her mother's moving car and possibly broke her arm, the records said.
Alhimidi said, "'I love you, Mom,' opened the vehicle door and jumped out while the vehicle was doing approximately 35 miles per hour," the documents said. "Police were informed by paramedics and hospital staff that Fatima Alhimidi said she was being forced to marry her cousin and did not want to do so, (so) she jumped out of the vehicle."
The teenager was with her mother in the Lakeside home at the time of the March 21 attack. She called 911 after finding Alawadi unconscious.
While police were interviewing Alhimidi after the attack, she received a text message reading, "The detective will find out tell them (can't) talk," according to the search warrant affidavit.
The victim's brother, Hass Alawadi, who moved to Texas from the San Diego area two months ago, told U-T San Diego that he has not drawn any conclusions about who killed his sister or why. His family is waiting for police to complete their investigation, he said.
"I want people to know what really happened," Alawadi told the newspaper. "We hope for the best, hope for it to come out. I hope they found who did it."
No arrests have been made, and El Cajon police have said little about the investigation since a March 26 news conference.
Lt. Mark Coit, a police spokesman, said Thursday the department was not commenting on the ongoing investigation in which the FBI is assisting. But he noted authorities were "not happy" the sealed documents were released.
The family told police a similar note was left at their home weeks before the attack, but they did not keep it or file a report with police.
The teenager told police that on the night of the killing she heard glass break and her mother squeal, but she thought it was a dropped plate. She said she found her mother unconscious 10 minutes later.
Alawadi had suffered at least six blows to the head, possibly caused by a tire iron. She died three days later.
A neighbor reported seeing a man carrying a brown box running from the area of Alawadi's house around the time of the attack.
The victim and her family left Iraq in the early 1990s after a failed Shiite uprising. They lived in Saudi Arabian refugee camps before coming to the U.S., said Imam Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn, Mich. Saddam Hussein's troops hanged Alawadi's uncle.
The family arrived in the Detroit area in 1993 and later moved to San Diego. Alawadi was a religious Shiite Muslim who wore a hijab, said Al-Husainy, a family friend. Alawadi's father, Sayed Nabeel Alawadi, is a cleric in Iraq.