El Cajon police investigators have interviewed family members and served a search warrant at the home where an Iraqi immigrant was found severely beaten with a threatening note left nearby.
Chief Jim Redman said investigators strongly believe the death of Shaima Alawadi was an isolated incident.
Alawadi was found with a severe head injury in the dining room of the family's rental home at 11:15 a.m. on March 21 by her 17-year-old daughter. A threatening note was found near her but officials refused to release the contents.
On Saturday, the 32-year-old mother was removed from life support.
Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant, moved in to the rental home on Skyview Street two months ago with her husband and their five children ranging in ages from 7 to 17.
At a Lakeside mosque Sunday friends remembered Alawadi as a warm, loving woman who was a wonderful mother. They were also concerned about the contents of the threatening note.
A spokesperson for the local chapter of the Counsel of American-Islamic Relations said he was concerned the beating may be a hate crime.
"The body was found with a note that essentially says, 'You guys are terrorists, go back home, you don't belong here.' That's the message," said CAIR Executive Director Hanif Mohebi.
“Based on the contents of the note, we are not ruling out the possibility that this may be a hate crime,” Redman said adding that homicide investigators are in the early stages of the case and have not drawn any conclusions.
The medical examiner has sealed the report on the case at the investigators' request. While Redman confirmed Alawadi died of a severe head injury, he would not discuss what weapon was used.
FBI investigators have offered to help in the investigation, the chief said.
They have interviewed all of the family members including Alawadi's husband and say there is no known history of domestic violence in the family and no record of previous police calls from the address.
Redman would not detail Alawadi’s activities the day she was attacked. He also mentioned a broken window at the home but would not elaborate.
The police chief did say that a previous note had been left at the home within the last month but was not reported.
When asked why investigators believe it’s an isolated incident, Redman said “I wish I can reveal more but I really can’t because it would compromise the investigation.”
Redman said officials had reached out to leaders of the community asking for help in solving the crime.
Approximately 50-60,000 Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees reside in El Cajon.
Neighbors said Alawadi and her two daughters wore headscarves.
The idea that Alawadi may have been targeted as part of a hate crime was disturbing to friend Kamaal Martin.
“When you add violence against woman, the loss of life of a mother on top of that and the fact that this innocent woman may have been targeted solely because of her appearance and her set of beliefs, it’s a strike not just at the Muslim community but at the humanity for all of us here in San Diego,” said Martin.
Nazanin Wahid said Alawadi was a friend to everyone at the Islamic Center of Lakeside on Mountain View Avenue because the community is close-knit and members know each other very well.
"This place holds a very special value to them because their children grew up here and they still come here, so this is their center, our center, their community, our community," said family friend Nazanin Wahid.
Alawadi's father is Sayed Nabeel Alawadi, a Shiite cleric in Iraq, a Muslim leader in Michigan told the Detroit Free-Press.
Hayder Al-Zayadi, a family friend, told the Free-Press that Alawadi moved to the United States in 1993 with her family and was part of a wave of Shiite Muslim refugees who fled to Michigan after Saddam Hussein cracked down on an uprising in 1991.
After living in Dearborn for a few years, she moved to the San Diego area in 1996, graduated from high school and became a housewife raising five children, Al-Zayadi said.
Sunday morning flowers were seen at the porch of the Alawadi home. A cross with the words “Give Thanks to the Lord” was also seen near the front door.
On Sunday, the family was making plans to fly Alawadi's body back to Iraq.
The killing has gained a following on social media with thousands of people supporting a special page on Facebook calling for "One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi."