American Girls

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

For Amina, the countdown to momentous changes began with the start of her senior year in September 2007. At the end of May would be "stage one" for Yaser, Ahmed says. Amina would graduate from high school and get engaged in Egypt.

Since Yaser used Islam, who worked off and on at Wal-Mart, as his assistant in overseeing his daughters' movements, his son's schedule had to be coordinated with his own. As Amina entered her senior year and Yaser became more worried about her behavior, Tissie went to Wal-Mart to demand that Islam's supervisor arrange his shift so he could get off before 11 p.m.

Islam's wedding was scheduled to take place during the summer of 2008. Yaser saved every penny in order to take his wife and daughters to Egypt for the ceremony and a huge party. He had another motive as well.

Islam, the oldest, had to watch over his sisters at all times.
Islam, the oldest, had to watch over his sisters at all times.

"I will leave you there if you don't get engaged," Yaser told Amina. Her only alternative was attending University of Texas at Arlington, where she could meet the sons of Muslims he knew in the area.

Amina listened and burned with anger.

"Amina didn't want to be a Muslim," says Eddie. "She felt cursed, like it was something she was born into." Her father prayed every Friday with his son but not with his daughters. They never went to mosque or talked about religion.

"I don't believe any of it," Amina told Eddie, "because I see how their women are treated. They have to walk behind the men. They beat up their wives."

In December, Amina sent Eddie another text: "Will you marry me?"

"We were going to get married so she would have my last name," Eddie says. "She was going to finish high school and then disappear for life."

In early December, a frantic Amina came to school with her cell phone bills stuffed in her backpack. Suspecting she was dating, Yaser had started scrutinizing the bills to find who she talked to.

"She was trying to come up with a plan to delete the phone bills," Finn says. Amina sent him a text message saying that if her dad found out about Eddie, "he would kill them, no doubt."

"He was taunting her with the gun," Finn says. "She was afraid for her boyfriend's life."

She confided to Finn that she planned to run away with Eddie. "Her mom would go too, because she'd wanted to leave for many years, but she had no courage," Finn says. "The mother always stayed for fear of everyone's lives."

When Ahmed met Yaser for coffee at a Denny's in mid-December, however, the taxi driver seemed concerned but not distraught.

The man who owner-financed their house had delivered a letter saying the family was four months behind on the mortgage. Tissie hadn't been paying the bill. To catch up, Yaser would have to use funds saved to buy the lot next to Amina's "chalet" to build a house for Sarah. Now someone else might buy it.

"Every step up I take, she digs under me," Yaser complained. "I work so hard, but some nights I go home with only $5 in my pocket."

Yaser didn't mention any problems with the girls. "I was busy," says Ahmed, who went to Egypt over the holidays. "I didn't hear the stress in his voice until later."

But Yaser had discovered the girls' deceptions. On Christmas Eve 2007, Amina and Sarah, crying hysterically, ran into the Kroger to tell their mother their father was waving a gun and threatening to kill Amina.

Co-workers told Tissie to leave Yaser, to take the girls somewhere safe, don't go home. A few gave her money. Tissie agreed.

But on Christmas morning, her boss was shocked to see Tissie standing behind a cash register. Despite the fear and drama of the previous night, she couldn't leave without finding a place to hide.

At 1:30 a.m. the day after Christmas—only four hours after seeing his wife and daughters last—Yaser told Lewisville police they were missing.

Tissie and the girls had gone to a convenience store for drinks and hadn't returned. Moggio told Tissie that the police were looking for her. Tissie called the Lewisville police to say they had left home "in fear of their lives."

The rest of Tissie's actions during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day defy explanation. First, she got her daughters to safety, and then she led them into a fatal trap.

————

When the black truck pulled up to Jill Owens' home in Kansas about noon on December 27, Tissie, the two girls and their two boyfriends piled out.

"If Yaser finds the girls, he's going to kill them both," Tissie told her aunt. The danger to Sarah had escalated after Tissie told Yaser that she, too, had a boyfriend.

Jill says the two terrified girls clung to their boyfriends. Though Yaser told Ahmed the Hispanic boys were "gangbangers," both were soft-spoken and polite, with no gang tattoos or clothing.

To get started anew, Tissie had taken some money from Yaser's cash stash. She told Owens it was $4,000. Sarah chirped up and said no, it was $9,000.

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