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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

El Cajon Iraqis Shaken After Deadly Beating

A 32-year-old Iraqi immigrant died Saturday, three days after she was discovered brutally beaten at her home in El Cajon. Indications of a possible hate crime have shaken residents of the city, which is home to thousands of Iraqi refugees.

A 32-year-old Iraqi immigrant died Saturday, three days after she was discovered brutally beaten at her home in El Cajon. Indications of a possible hate crime have shaken residents of the city, which is home to thousands of Iraqi refugees.

On Saturday, Shaima Alawadi's family took her off life support, and she died shortly after.

The mother of five had suffered multiple blows to the head with a large object. Police said her 17-year-old daughter discovered her in the kitchen on Wednesday, along with a threatening note.

The Police haven't released the text of that note, but Alawadi's daughter told a local TV station and a Muslim civil rights group that the note called her mother a terrorist and demanded she go back to her country.

The police have not ruled the murder a hate crime, but have said they are investigating the possibility.

Hanif Mohebi is director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic relations.

"In the past two to three months we have had some level of increase in at least reporting of hate crimes or discrimination and hate incidents within the San Diego County. We¹re still trying to figure out the reason why that may be," said Mohebi.

El Cajon has the nation's second largest community of Iraqis. Thousands have settled here, first in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, and again since the war of 2003.

Tensions have occasionally flared here, as the modest city has had to accommodate the huge influx and the demand it's placed on city services and schools. But Iraqis have become a part of the fabric of this town, opening restaurants, convenience stores and bakeries.

So the daughter¹s description of the note has shocked many here – Iraqis and non-Iraqis alike.

On Sunday afternoon, Alawadi's cousin, Hussein Alawadi, stands in front of the family's home on a quiet residential street.

"She grow up with me, and from when she was kid to the last day in her life, she's very nice woman," said Alawadi.

But the interview is interrupted by David Peck, a neighbor.

"Just my thoughts are with you and your family at this time," said Peck.

He tells Alawadi he is shocked prejudice could have been a motive.

“I just want you to know that not everyone thinks that way. It's a very small few. Just like there were a very small few on 9-11 that did something, there are a small few like this who did something this heinous. They don¹t speak for all Americans,” said Peck.

But the crime has confused and even frightened some Iraqis.

On a commercial strip a few blocks away, people trickle through the Main Street Meat Market.

Ramez Kadhim, the shop owner's brother, says he is afraid. He arrived from Iraq just six months ago, and says Alawadi¹s murder has shattered his notion of what moving to the U.S. would mean.

"I'm afraid about my brother, about my sister. I'm afraid! Because someone like this one maybe kill me," said Kadhim.

But Bassam Yousif, the shop's butcher, steps out from behind the counter, where he says the murdered woman frequently bought halal meat for her family.

He said he's never felt discriminated against living in El Cajon, and still feels safer here than he did in Baghdad. But the murder still baffles him.

"They are a normal family and a simple family. Why? Those are our questions. Why they kill her? I don't know," said Yousif.

The police and the whole community will be looking for answers to that question in the days to come.

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