LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Court papers filed by police in the beating death of an Iraqi-American woman near San Diego cite her divorce plans and daughter’s apparent suicide attempt last year, but do not point to further evidence that the murder was a hate crime.
Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was found bludgeoned in her rented home in a refugee community of the San Diego suburb of El Cajon on March 21 and died of her injuries several days later, after doctors removed her from life support.
A threatening note found at the scene has given rise to suggestions that Alawadi may have been targeted because of her ethnicity, though police have cautioned against drawing that conclusion during the investigation.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed last week and obtained by Reuters on Thursday, a relative of Alawadi told detectives the victim had “been planning on divorcing her husband and moving to the state of Texas.” The documents show that divorce papers were found in her car.
The whereabouts of the victim’s husband, Kassim Alhimidi, at the time of the incident, also had not been confirmed, police said in the court papers.
The affidavit also says that in November police responding to reports of two people possibly having sex in a car found Alawadi’s 17-year-old daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, in a vehicle with a 21-year-old man.
After Alawadi picked up her daughter to drive them home, the girl told her mother, “I love you Mom,” then opened the car door and jumped out while the vehicle was still moving at 35 miles-per-hour, suffering multiple injuries, the affidavit says.
“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,” investigators say in the documents.
It was Alhimidi who discovered her mother unconscious and bleeding on the floor of the family home after an “extremely violent” attack in which the victim was struck six or more times by a heavy object, suffering at least four skull fractures.
According to the affidavit, Alhimidi told police that she heard her mother squeal, followed by the sound of breaking glass, which she took to be her mother dropping a plate. Ten minutes later she said she discovered her mother on the floor, bleeding, and called 911.
Detectives disclose in the documents that while Alhimidi was being interviewed by police, a text message was sent to her cell phone from a caller unknown to police that read: “The detective will find out tell them can’t talk.”
The search warrant affidavit was filed as police sought to search the home and two cars, one registered to Alawadi and the other to her husband.
Police said they were looking for an earring matching one found near the victim’s body apparently caked in blood, along with any evidence relating to the threatening note and murder weapon, as well as computers and other data storage devices.
The affidavit suggests that the weapon, possibly a tire iron, had not been recovered.
According to the affidavit the threatening missive found at the home was a copy, and investigators said they wanted to look for the original, the paper stock it was written on and any other threatening notes.
An El Cajon police spokesman declined to comment on the affidavit, saying it was not intended for public release.
The murder of Alawadi in a close-knit refugee community on the outskirts of San Diego has brought attention to a rise in bias crimes against Muslims, and an FBI unit is assisting in the investigation.
In a sign of how closely the case was being watched, the U.S. State Department expressed condolences for Alawadi’s death, and Iraqi government representatives attended the funeral.
El Cajon is in the heart of East San Diego County, home to the second-largest Iraqi community in the United States, behind Detroit. More than half of El Cajon’s 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern descent.
Alawadi and her husband arrived in the United States in 1993. She was buried last month in the holy Shi‘ite city of Najaf, roughly 100 miles south of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.
Additional reporting by Marty Graham and Mary Slosson; Editing by Steve Gorman and Doina Chiacu