Story By Kristina Davis
EL CAJON — 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.
Fatima and her mother were the only ones at their El Cajon home on Skyview Street when the attack occurred about 11 a.m. on March 21.
Alawadi’s husband, Kassim Alhimidi, had reportedly left to take the couple’s other younger children to school, although police state in the March 27 affidavit that his whereabouts had not yet been confirmed.
Fatima told El Cajon police that she heard her mother squeal, and 10 seconds later heard the sound of glass breaking, the affidavit said. She told police she thought her mother had dropped a plate. Ten minutes later, the daughter discovered her mother lying unconscious on the ground, near a computer, and called 911.
A neighbor reported seeing a skinny dark-skinned male running west from the area of Alawadi’s house. He was described as being in his late teens to early 20s, 5 feet 7 inches tall, 150 pounds, wearing a dark blue or black hooded sweatshirt and carrying a brown doughnut-shaped cardboard box.
Alawadi died at a hospital three days later.
An autopsy noted the assault was “extremely violent” and showed Alawadi had at least six hits to the head, with at least four skull fractures. The injuries were possibly caused by an object similar to a tire iron, with a striking edge that is narrow and made of a hard material, according to the records.
The sheriff’s crime lab determined a threatening handwritten note found near the victim was a copy, not the original, the records state.
Authorities have not made public the contents of the note, but Fatima and other family members have told reporters that it ordered the family to go back where they came from.
Police have said that the note indicates the possibility of a hate crime but have stressed they are exploring all possibilities. The family told police a similar note was left at their home in the weeks before the attack, but the family did not keep the note or report it to police at the time.
The possibility of a hate crime has reverberated around the world, especially in the Muslim community, and prompted supporters to hold candlelight vigils and demonstrations denouncing bigotry.
El Cajon police have said little about the investigation since a March 26 news conference, saying they have no suspects. They declined to comment on the contents of the search warrant Wednesday. The FBI is assisting in the investigation.
Some of the search warrant records remain sealed by a judge.
During a search of the home and the couple’s vehicles in the hours after the attack, police found court paperwork to file for divorce in Alawadi’s Ford Explorer. The packet was not filled out, but a form requesting a court fee waiver was filled out in handwriting with Alawadi’s name, address and phone number.
Majhed Alhasan, secretary for the Islamic Center of Lakeside and a close friend of the family, said Wednesday he had never heard that Alawadi had been thinking about a divorce and moving.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of it,” Alhasan said. “About a month ago, her mother, non-married sister and two non-married brothers moved to Texas.”
He said a married sister of Alawadi already was living in Houston.
Police also searched computers, cellphones and other devices. Among the evidence they were searching for was an earring matching a bloody one found near Alawadi. Family told investigators that she usually wore four earrings, according to the records.
Detectives were also seeking any other notes, a weapon similar to a tire iron and any forensic evidence.
Investigators also learned of a previous police contact with Fatima.
On Nov. 3, police found Fatima with a 21-year-old man after responding to a report of two people possibly having sex in a car, the documents state. Officers called her mother, who came to the location and picked up the girl. As they were driving away, Fatima said, “I love you, mom,” before jumping out of the vehicle onto Mollison Avenue at 35 mph.
She was taken to a hospital with several injuries, including a possible broken arm. She refused to talk to police at the hospital but reportedly told paramedics and hospital staff that she was being forced to marry her cousin and didn’t want to.
Rawnaq Yacub, the man in the incident, told U-T San Diego Wednesday that police interviewed him after the slaying and some of his clothes were taken from the home he shares with his family. He said he has no connection to the crime.
He described Fatima as a “best friend” and said there is no romantic relationship. He and Fatima were only talking in the car when police contacted them five months ago, he said.
Fatima, her father and a brother flew to Iraq last week for Alawadi’s funeral on Saturday and planned to stay for two weeks, a family friend said. Alawadi’s father is a Shia cleric in Iraq.