Nasro Hassan left Mary Gates Hall, an academic building for undergraduates at the University of Washington, at 5:47 p.m. on Nov. 15. She turned onto Benton Lane NE and headed for the staircase between the hall and Allen Library, following her usual route toward the light rail station.
The sun had set an hour before, and the night was dark apart from the lights that line the major walkways on the campus. Hassan, head down, eyes doing split time between the texts she was composing and receiving on her cell phone and her feet’s path, did not see the bottle coming.
She felt it, though.
“I was taken aback,” the 18-year-old told a group of reporters on Nov. 28, two weeks after the attack. “There was pain, a sharp ringing in my head.”
It took a moment to gather herself enough to make for a campus information desk where she broke down and called the police to report the attack and get checked out. It would turn out later that she had a concussion. Dahabo Hassan, the owner of a grocery store and bakery in SeaTac, sat next to her daughter at the press conference. Both women wore hijabs, Nasro’s black with bright red faux rubies on her sleeves and a UW beanie pulled down on top and Dahabo’s dark under a headscarf of muted browns and reds.
This clothing, they suspect, is why the man attacked Nasro that Wednesday night.
“It’s really scary,” Dahabo said. “I have four other girls in high school, elementary school and middle school, all in hijab.”
The conversation took place in the offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Seattle’s International District. Arsalan Bukhari, the executive director of cair Washington, announced the previous day that the branch would offer a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the man who attacked Nasro before walking away, laughing.
It’s an unusual step for the office, which Bukhari believes has never put up reward money before. But the radio silence from the campus and campus police prompted the effort.
First one week passed with no announcement, no report to the students or any other visible effort to find the perpetrator. Then a second.
“We would have thought there was some call by the police for tips, especially because a young lady was hit in the face by a bottle on campus,” Bukhari said. “If he did this to her, he could have done this to someone else.”
But the police didn’t alert the community, either to get tips or warn the other Muslim and minority students who might also be targeted. The federal government mandates such alerts for 13 crimes, including aggravated assault, said Maj. Steve Rittereiser, spokesperson for the campus police department. But the charge is, officially assault in the third degree and doesn’t fall under those guidelines.
Had the bottle broken and cut Nasro, or if the attacker had broken the bottle to create a more dangerous weapon before coming at her, the story would be different, he said. Alternatively, if there had been a series of attacks or an established pattern, the police would have released a notification.
At this point, it’s not even clear if the attacker used a bottle to attack Nasro. Although she reported that the object that struck her felt like it was made of glass, she didn’t see it.
It’s another complication in an ongoing investigation hampered by a lack of witnesses or other information. That area of the campus does not have closed-circuit television cameras, and Nasro’s description of a 20-something man with a black hoodie and dark jeans could match many on the UW campus.
Bukhari and the Hassans understand the limitations, but they also know how powerful incentives can boost the likelihood of an arrest and conviction.
“In the past, what we’ve seen is when this is done, a friend or someone who hears something turns in the attacker, or an attacker turns himself in when they know that they’re being sought by police,” Bukhari said.
Knowing that such attacks will not be overlooked is critical at a time when hate crimes against communities of color are spiking. Last year marked a new high for attacks against Muslims in the U.S. This year, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that combats hate crimes, reported almost 900 hate crimes between election day and thte end of November.
The organization suspects that bigots have been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, whose racist, misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric during the campaign created a structure for them to act on their impulses.
Dahabo experienced it herself, just standing on a street. A woman “told me a bad word,” she said, and yelled that Dahabo didn’t belong in the country.
“I told her, ‘Thank you so much for telling me that,’” Dahabo said. “She shamed herself, and said ‘I’m sorry.’ I accepted her sorry.”
Dahabo’s grace in the face of vitriol could be natural, or it could result from raising 11 children and running a business on her own. Her husband died when Nasro was 8 years old in a car accident in their home state of North Dakota. It was Father’s Day.
An assault against one of her children, however, made her anxious. She initially didn’t let them take the bus to school, insisting on driving them. Daily activities such as shopping became even scarier undertakings than before.
The attack frightened Nasro too, a slim woman with a quiet voice. She makes sure she doesn’t walk alone now and said that she wants to arrange her schedule next term so her classes take place during the day.
Still, when she describes the crime and why she’s speaking out, there’s steel there.
“Other girls need to know it is okay to speak out, and get help,” she said.