Alwadi was discovered early Wednesday morning by her 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, who called 911. At the hospital, Shaima Alwadi was diagnosed as brain dead, and her family chose to remove her from life support.
A handwritten note found at the crime scene described Alwadi as a “terrorist” and warned her to “go back to your own country.” Family members said they had received a similar note a few days earlier but had dismissed it as a kids’ prank.
Now the question is whether the attack and the threats were acts of domestic anti-Islamic terrorism.
According to the Los Angeles Times, El Cajon is home to the second largest enclave of Iraqi immigrants in the United States, after Dearborn, Mich. Shaima and her husband, Kassim, immigrated from Iraq to Dearborn in the mid-1990s. They had relocated to El Cajon just a few weeks before the murder.
In an interview with Al Arabiya, Kassim Alwadi said, “My wife was a victim of xenophobia.” He said that he and Shaima were both from al-Samawa, in Southern Iraq, and that they were married in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia.
In the same interview, Hussein Alwadi, a cousin of the victim, described how family members believe the attack took place:
“I saw her body in the dinning room a few minutes before the police arrived,” her cousin told Al Arabiya.
He said the murderer snuck into the house on Wednesday morning from the back [yard].
“The [yard] has no fence so he was able to break the glass of the kitchen window right away and apparently he did so without making a noise.”
Hussein added that the attacker then reached for the window handle, opened it, and got inside.
“He did so after watching Shaima’s husband drive away with four of the children he was taking to school. Only Shaima and her eldest daughter Fatima stayed in the house. Fatima was asleep.”
The murderer, Hussein recounted, saw Shaima in the dinning room and attacked her with an iron rod or a spanner.
“He first hit her on her forehead then on her right ear. The third strike was on the back of her head. This was followed by five fast and consecutive strikes on her head and shoulders.”
Shaima, Hussein said, lost consciousness, upon which the attacker left the house.
“Because the attack was fast, the eldest daughter Fatima, who was asleep in the upper floor, did not hear a thing and only found out when she woke up and went downstairs to see her mother’s body drenched in blood.”
Police have interviewed other family members and friends of the family, both in El Cajon and Dearborn.
Investigators are not ready to label Alwadi’s death a hate crime. “Based on the evidence thus far, we believe this is an isolated incident,” El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redman said during a news conference. Police had not seen any “free-floating hostility” toward people of different ethnicities in the area, Redman said.