American Girls

Crossing between American and Egyptian cultures, he Said girls made one deadly misstep: They fell in love

"Do you know what Daddy did to me and Sarah?" Amina, then 9, asked her great-aunt.

"Aunt Gail, it was bad," said Sarah, 8. Big brother Islam, 10, clenched his fists in anger and told Gartrell he "wanted to kill Yaser" for hurting his sisters.

Tissie had left Yaser a year earlier, in October 1997; she told her sister that Yaser rarely drove his taxi. "Yaser wouldn't work," Moggio says. "It was hard for my sister with no education to make good money."

According to the sheriff's report, Yaser had retaliated by picking the children up at school: "He ran off to Virginia and told her he was going to take the kids to the Middle East where he is from and she would never see them again."

The couple reconciled in March 1998, however, and moved to Covington, a tiny town near Hillsboro, to live on property owned by a family member. Yaser worked in a nearby convenience store while his family lived in a shack.

"They had to poop in a bucket," recalls Tissie's aunt, Joyce Boucher.

On October 24, 1998, Tissie called a Hill County Sheriff's deputy to say her daughters told their American grandmother, who lived in Garland, that their father had been sexually molesting them for two or three years. She had again left Yaser.

"The girls were staying with [the grandmother] and were afraid to go with their father and told [the grandmother] that their father had put his finger in their vagina and rectum and he had put his penis in Amina's vagina one time," the sheriff's report reads.

"Complainant [Tissie] advised that Sarah told her that her father had stuck his finger inside of her and that Amina told her that her father had stuck his finger inside of her, touched her bottom and her top." The last alleged sexual abuse had occurred about two weeks earlier, when Tissie was visiting her mother and the children stayed with Yaser.

At first, Tissie refused to give the deputy her address, afraid that Child Protective Services or Yaser would take her kids. She wouldn't even let the children play outside.

"The complainant was very nervous about anyone questioning her husband, Yaser Said...The complainant advised she would like to file charges against her husband so she could get a court order to keep him and his family away from her kids."

Tissie took the three children to the sheriff's office. Two deputies conducted a taped interview with Amina, who, in very graphic language for a child, described how her father had touched her, made her touch him, and that her father had "put his front part in her front part." Amina said that "she is afraid of her father...afraid he will hit her."

In an interview with Sarah, the 8-year-old told deputies about her father's alleged sexual molestation and said she was afraid of "her dad and his brothers...scared they will take her."

A later physical exam of the girls didn't confirm the abuse, but "a normal genital exam does not rule out sexual abuse," the report said.

On November 5, 1998, while Tissie was still in hiding, Yaser went to the sheriff's department to complain that his wife had written a check on his account. Since the check wasn't a forgery, there was no legitimate complaint. Then a deputy told Yaser about the sexual abuse allegations. Yaser adamantly denied the charge and said he was willing to take a polygraph test. He blamed Tissie for not providing for the children.

Yaser never took the polygraph. In Dallas County, he was charged with felony "retaliation" after Tissie filed a complaint alleging he threatened to kill her and take the children after being indicted on December 17, 1998, for "sexual penetration" of both girls.

But the charges were dropped on January 12, 1999, when Amina and Sarah recanted, saying they had lied about the abuse because they didn't like their school in Covington and wanted to live with their grandmother. (Yaser was not arrested for alleged retaliation until March 22, 2001. That charge was also dismissed after Tissie refused to cooperate with prosecutors and Yaser agreed to take an anger-management course.)

After the sexual abuse case was dismissed, the couple again reconciled. The family left Covington and lived in a series of dumpy apartments in Dallas and Tarrant counties. Tissie and Yaser eked out an existence with the help of a monthly disability check that began after Islam was diagnosed as "mentally retarded." At age 14, he dropped out to be home-schooled by his mother. The disability check paid the rent.

Minimal best describes their existence. Their apartments were furnished with little more than mattresses on the floor and cast-off furniture. "They just didn't have much of anything," Moggio says.

————

"Only when it's Muslim do they call it an honor killing," says Yaser's brother "Ahmed." (He spoke to the Dallas Observer on the condition his real name wasn't published.) "They don't call it a Christian killing. They just say they went nuts."

Dressed in gray sweats, running shoes and a Baylor cap, Ahmed stands on the front porch of his two-story red brick house in suburban Bedford in mid-May. A school bus drives by and discharges his teenage daughter, who is carrying her backpack, her hair covered by a hijab.

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