The fatal beating of an Iraqi woman in her El Cajon home, in what may have been a hate crime, appeared to be an "isolated incident," the city's police chief said Monday.
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Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was found unconscious about 11:15 a.m. last Wednesday by her 17-year-old daughter in the dining room of their home in the 500 block of Skyview Street, according to police.
She was hospitalized until Saturday, when she was taken off life support around 3 p.m.
El Cajon police Chief Jim Redman told reporters Monday afternoon that investigators had not yet identified any "persons of interest" in the case.
Redman disclosed that one window in the house the victim shared with her husband and children had been broken and confirmed that a note was found near her body. He declined to reveal what was in the message.
"Based on the contents of this note, we are not ruling out the possibility this may be a hate crime," he said. "At this time we are not revealing the contents of the note, but it was threatening in nature.
He added, "I want to stress there is other evidence in this case that we are looking at, and the possibility of a hate crime is just one of the aspects of this investigation. We are still in the very early stages of this investigation and have not drawn any conclusions at this point."
Another menacing note had been received by the family in recent weeks, but they did not report it to authorities, Redman confirmed.
The victim's teen daughter, Fatima Al Himidi, told 10News her mother dismissed the first note, found outside the home, as a child's prank.
Deputy district attorney Oscar Garcia, who prosecutes hates crimes, said offenders sometimes commit vandalism but rarely write notes.
"It is a little unusual," said Garcia, who added that his office has been in contact with El Cajon police. Garcia declined to talk specifics about the case.
"Based on the evidence thus far, we believe this is an isolated incident," said Redman. "I encourage anyone in the community who has information regarding this case to please contact the El Cajon Police Department."
Redman added that he could not detail "the reasons why we believe it's an isolated incident, other than to just assure the community that that's our strong belief."
"Any further discussion on the evidence would compromise this investigation, so I really have to stress that we can't go any further into the evidence in this case," Redman told news crews.
He said all members of the victim's immediate family had been interviewed.
Alhimidi told reporters her mother had been beaten with a tire iron and that the note left in the home read, in part, "go back to your country, you terrorist."
Redman said the ECPD had never before recorded a hate crime against Iraqis or Chaldeans, tens of thousands of whom live in the East County. In response to a reporter's question, the chief said police also had seen no indications of any notable "hostility" toward that segment of the local population.
"We've reached out to members of the (Middle Eastern) community, and we received their full support in this investigation," he said.
The chief said his department tracks the activities of local skinheads and other extremist groups with histories of victimizing minorities.
Officials with the FBI have offered "any assistance we may need, and we will be utilizing their resources as appropriate," Redman noted, adding that solving the case was a "number-one priority for us."
At the request of police, the county Medical Examiner's Office has sealed its reports about the slaying.
Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said this morning that Alawadi would be buried in Baghdad, but it was unclear when her body would be released by authorities in San Diego.
Alawadi wore a traditional Muslim hijab, or headscarf, and had lived in the El Cajon home only a few weeks, having just recently moved back to San Diego County from Michigan, according to a family friend.
Her spouse had worked in San Diego as a contractor for the U.S. Army, serving as a cultural adviser to train soldiers who were being deployed to the Middle East. Redman said the husband had been placed on disability and that the victim apparently did not work.
In addition to her husband and 17-year-old daughter, Alawadi is survived by four other children, the youngest of whom is about 7.
In the wake of the slaying, a Facebook campaign was started in honor of Alawadi. It calls on women of all races all over the world to wear a hijab for at least one day in April.
"We've received an outpouring of sympathy and a lot of emails and voicemails," said Edgar Hopida, who is with the San Diego chapter of the Council on Arabic-Islamic Relations, or CAIR.
Another advocate in contact with the family said they remain inconsolable.
"The family is still emotionally breaking down," said Hanif Mohebi, the executive director of CAIR. "They've just realized she is no longer with them
from the notes they found, their assumption is it's a hate crime. It's the only clue they have, so one can't blame them for sticking to that line."
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