The April 30 fatal shooting of 20-year-old Jessica Mokdad in Warren allegedly carried out by her stepfather has led to an outpouring of emotions and support for the Mokdad family as well as a murder charge against the man who raised her for much of her life.
The stepfather, 45-year-old Rahim Alfetlawi, of Coon Rapids,
Minnesota, turned himself in after the shooting and will stand trial for first
degree murder along with two other charges, but it's Alfetlawi's religious
background that seemingly has drawn the most media coverage following the
Jessica Mokdad was killed on April 30; her stepdad is the primary suspect after what many are calling an "obsessive" relationship with her had unfolded over the years. Photo courtesy of Mokdad family
Websites and blogs in the aftermath of the incident have in some cases been quick to declare it a so-called "honor killing," either proclaiming or wondering aloud whether or not Mokdad was killed because of Alfetlawi's displeasure with her "Western ways" and unwillingness to follow certain Islamic customs.
Mokdad's biological father, Mohamad Mokdad of Grand Blanc, and his wife Cassandra have taken issue with the way the narrative has been told.
"There's a lot of people saying 'honor killing' and stuff but I don't believe that at all," Mohamad Mokdad said. "I believe he said that just to cover up his sick mind...I think it's more of an obsession, he was always obsessed with her, that's my opinion on the whole thing."
Jessica Mokdad's biological parents were divorced and Alfetlawi became her stepfather just before she turned nine years old. She had been born in Dearborn but Alfetlawi and her biological mother Wendy moved to Minnesota, taking her with them.
Rahim Alfetlawi began to exert a huge amount of control over Jessica Mokdad as she grew up, according to family members. Mohamad Mokdad described his daughter's situation as being a "prisoner" in her stepfather's house, claiming that cameras were installed in her room and a GPS tracker was placed on her phone.
Wendy Alfetlawi told Fox 2 News Detroit that she recently realized that the control measures went too far.
"She called me when she was 17 years and 10 months old saying, 'Dad, I can't live here anymore, he's too strict, I can't even go to the store to buy a pop if I want,'" Mohamad Mokdad said.
Alfetlawi also made her marry a boyfriend in a non-binding
ceremony at a local mosque after learning of their relationship.
Jessica Mokdad made plans to return to Michigan to live with Mohamad and Cassandra Mokdad as soon as she became an adult at age 18.
She did just that in 2009; her husband arrived later. She eventually moved to Warren to live with her grandmother, Diane Fauer, in order to help her around the house. Her husband arrived later.
But in March 2011, Mokdad ended up on a train back to Minnesota. Statements from a lawyer who spoke with her in April 2011 showed that she said she was "coerced" into returning, according to a police report.
"I had no idea what happened, she was in Minnesota and nobody told me but then she called me and said, 'I want to come back, to which I replied that the house was here for her at any time,'" Mohamad Mokdad said.
An "obviously distraught and very nervous" Jessica Mokdad revealed to the lawyer on a train ride back to Dearborn on April 4, 2011 that her stepfather had a long history of control and abuse against her and that she planned to return home to Michigan. Alfetlawi was tempermental and would often "lose it." She told the lawyer that he had used "fear, intimidation and violence to get his way," threatened to harm her and her mother if she attempted to run away again and described a pattern of multiple forms of abuse against her and her mother while also adding that the most recent dispute was over the wearing of the hijab (head scarf), which he originally forced her to wear.
On April 30, Jessica Mokdad made a stop in Warren to help Fauer clean out her recently-deceased great-grandmother's house where Alfetlawi, who came all the way from Minnesota, met them and helped them pack up belongings. Jessica Mokdad and Alfetlawi left together and arrived back at Fauer's house first, which is where the death took place, before Fauer had returned.
Alfetlawi told police that Jessica tried to grab a gun she felt while hugging him and that when he tried to stop her, it accidentally discharged.
But Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Bill Cataldo said that physical evidence shows that she was shot behind the ear coming out of the left temple at a downward angle and that the trajectory "would not be consistent with a struggle."
Now, as the wait continues for the court system to sort out what really happened, speculation over the motive continues.
The Mokdad family has maintained that Alfetlawi's supposed religious-based guidelines were merely a cover for his controlling ways. They said that Jessica continued to pray and fast as a practicing Muslim and also wore a scarf while in Michigan many times, saying she mainly enjoyed the freedom to wear it or not wear it when she chose to do so.
Warren Police Detective Stephen Mills said last month that Alfetlawi's wife claimed he wasn't a practicing Muslim and that he only visited mosques for special services, according to a report in The Detroit News.
Cataldo said that Alfetlawi told police he originally wanted to kill Mohamad Mokdad because Jessica was being allowed to become "Westernized" according to reports.
Later, upon further examination of the case, he said he began to realize that the abusive relationship was mainly based on controlling her, however.
"My position is that what the facts and evidence show is that it was not as much about religious beliefs as it was about control," he said. "He forced her to relate to weird rules around the house; I don't know if it's religious but it (mostly centered) around issues of control.
"This was just a horrible event; she was a very vibrant bright (young woman) trying to live a life that was brought to a really premature ending for no particularly good reason."
Alfetlawi's mental state has been called into question as well. A mental examination was granted last month after he reportedly told a judge that he was subjected to "humiliation and torture" in the 1990's in his home country of Iraq under Saddam Hussein's rule.
Her step-mother Cassandra maintains that the killing was just another example of an obsession that ended tragically.
"For them to say it was an honor killing is incorrect...(Alfetlawi) had no idea what was going on here, and if he did know he would know that she was in fact following Islam."
While the circumstances surrounding Alfetlawi's relationship and influence on Mokdad have been highly scrutinized, her friends and family have continued to grieve, including her father Mohamad.
"Jessica was the most wonderful daughter a man could ask for and not a day will go by that I will forget her beautiful smile."