By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
On New Year's Day, Patricia Said stood at the door of a small house in a Hispanic neighborhood of Lewisville, pleading with her daughter Amina to come home. The girl cried and clung to her boyfriend, Eddie, a college student who lived in the house with his mother and sister.
For a week, Amina, an 18-year-old senior at Lewisville High School, had been living a nightmare. Her father, Yaser Said, had pulled a gun on Christmas Eve and threatened to kill her because of her relationship with Eddie.
"We were going to get engaged and get married," says Eddie, who asked not to be identified by his last name. He loved the beautiful young woman with black hair, green eyes and a burning ambition to do something with her life.
After learning that Amina planned to run away with Eddie, Patricia, who everyone called "Tissie," phoned a family member to find a place to hide. Tissie would leave with Amina and her younger daughter Sarah, 17, who also feared her father. Her brother Islam had told their father that Sarah also had a boyfriend, and Yaser threatened to kill her too.
From the time they were little, Yaser told his daughters they were to have no American boyfriends, ever. Yaser and Islam kept strict watch over the girls to ensure they didn't disobey the command.
Yaser had big plans for both girls. Everything would begin in May, when Amina received her high school diploma. She would get engaged to a man he had chosen for her in Egypt, his birthplace. From the groom, Amina would receive a sizable mahr, the traditional dowry. Yaser had scrimped for years to provide his own contribution to the marriage: a small vacation "chalet" on the seaside in the Sinai.
When Amina, who dreamed of becoming a doctor, asked her father when she would go to college, Yaser had a simple answer: when—if—your husband allows. The same was expected for Sarah.
Amina had no intention of marrying a much older Egyptian man, a stranger, so, on December 26, Tissie, her daughters and their boyfriends fled. They made their way to Attica, a small Kansas town where Tissie's aunt lived. But Amina, who had been offered a scholarship by Texas A&M, knew immediately that Attica wouldn't do. She had to live in a college town.
The group got back on the road and headed to Tulsa, where Eddie had relatives. They planned to get an apartment, find jobs and enroll in school. Their boyfriends would stay with them. "We were going to live with them so they could be safe," says Eric, Sarah's boyfriend.
The group found an apartment; Tissie and Eric got jobs right away while the girls checked out schools. Eddie drove back to Dallas for a DJ job and to get his belongings.
Then Tissie lied.
She told her daughters that December 31 was her deceased mother's birthday and she wanted to drive to East Texas to put flowers on her grave. Driving through Denton to Lewisville, Tissie revealed the truth: She was returning to Yaser.
Reluctantly, Sarah went home with her mother, but Amina refused.
"I'm never going back there," Amina told an aunt. She spent New Year's Eve at Eddie's house.
The calls from her mother started early the next morning, but Amina refused to come home. Finally, Tissie drove the few blocks to Eddie's house and pounded on the door. Amina argued while her mother stood unmoving in the doorway, saying her father had forgiven her.
"She said he just wanted to talk to Amina and that everything was going to be OK," Eddie says. "Amina was crying and didn't want to go, but her mom made her. I trusted her mom to take care of her." So, he backed off.
A few hours later, the bullet-riddled bodies of Amina and Sarah Said were found in a bloody taxi outside an Irving hotel. Yaser Said has disappeared and now is a fugitive, wanted for their murders.
Two funerals were held for the girls. At the Christian ceremony, one of Tissie's aunts walked up to an imam who would officiate at the Muslim service. "This is an honor killing," she yelled in his face. "Don't deny it." The rest of Tissie's family took up the refrain, saying Yaser had killed Amina and Sarah because it was his kinship and religious duty to restore the Said family's reputation, besmirched by the girls' relationships with the two young men.
The Said side, the Egyptians, disagreed. Yaser had just snapped—if indeed he was responsible.
"Only a monster could do that," says one of Yaser's brothers. He points out that when Christian parents kill their children, people rarely blame the killers' religious beliefs.
The Koran condemns the slaying of the innocent, says Imam Zia-ul-Haq Shaikh of the Islamic Center of Irving. Honor killings are committed in many places of the world, by Hindus, Sikhs and Christians as well as Muslims.
Still, news that a Muslim father had been accused of murdering two beautiful daughters because he disapproved of their boyfriends triggered an instantaneous and predictable reaction from non-Muslims: It had to be an "Islamic" honor killing.
The truth is more complex.
"Honor killings have nothing to do with Islam," says female Saudi writer and activist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar. "It's only tradition. It's the mentality of women as property."
In the case of Amina and Sarah Said, the murders were allegedly committed by a non-religious Muslim raised in Egypt. Yaser Said exerted dictatorial control over his American wife and children since marrying Tissie when she was 15. Culture and religion certainly played a role in his rage, but Said's desire to dominate his family and his twisted notion of success played an equal part.
Yaser Said struggled financially, still driving a taxi 20 years after immigrating to America, while his three immigrant brothers thrived. As his marriage fell apart, Yaser believed Tissie was conspiring against him, interfering with his business, stealing his money and poisoning his food, according to one of his brothers and an employer. Paranoia made Yaser believe people were following him, watching him.
Yaser's culture taught that a father's duty, his highest responsibility, was to see his children wed into good households. Bonds with well-to-do Egyptian families would secure his good name, his future financial success and care in his old age. Now his daughters—sheltered and modest but thoroughly American—were turning their backs on their father's plans.
Yaser couldn't see that his own marriage to a teenage American girl when he was 30 had all the elements of disaster from the outset. Religion, culture and age differences created a gulf the family could not cross.
On February 7, 1987, the bride, on her father's arm, made her grand entrance in a second-hand wedding gown and walked down the aisle of a Bedford country Baptist church founded by her Bible-thumping grandfather.
Sitting on one side, the family of Tissie Owens, age 15: white, Christian for the most part, working-class Texans who looked at the groom's relatives and saw immigrants from Egypt who spoke with funny accents, had a funny religion and whose women dressed in flowing robes.
Sitting across aisle: Yaser's brothers and a sister, who had come to the United States in 1983 after their father in Egypt had divorced their mother, remarried and started another family.
Tissie and Yaser had met at a convenience store in Hurst where he manned a cash register. "He was real nice, but you couldn't understand a lot of what he was saying," says Connie Moggio, Tissie's sister. "He didn't speak very good English."
Yaser had no secondary education and few skills. Tissie was a vulnerable, overweight teenager. Tissie's mother had also married as a teenager and was only a year or two older than Yaser.
Tissie's cousin Cindy Quevado says Tissie had first been engaged to Yaser's younger brother, but he "broke it off."
Tall, thin and quiet, Yaser "gifted" Tissie with presents and told her family he owned land in Egypt. Though a Muslim, he agreed to a ceremony in a Christian church, and her parents signed papers allowing their minor daughter to marry a man twice her age.
Tissie's aunt Gail Gartrell took Tissie aside and explained that she was marrying into a very different culture. Tissie didn't care.
"I think it was just a way out of what she was living in," Quevado says. "She grew up extremely poor. I think she had a fairy-tale idea of marriage. I know she wasn't in love. It was ignorance and being naïve."
Tissie's sister, aunts and cousins believed Yaser was wedding Tissie to stay in America. His visa was about to expire, and they had known each other only a week. (Yaser later received permanent residency.) After the ceremony, Gartrell says, several Arabic men approached American women in the parking lot and asked if they were interested in marriage.
The wedding reception, held in a Said home in Euless, emphasized the divide. The men sat in one room, the women in another. All the food was in the room with the men. The female guests were ignored, Gartrell says.
By the time she was 18, Tissie had three children under age 5. To supplement Yaser's meager income as a cabbie, Tissie worked minimum-wage jobs. Moggio says Tissie stopped wearing makeup, wouldn't eat pork and fasted on Muslim holidays. Though she rarely wore a head scarf, Tissie told her sister she had to have Yaser's permission to talk to or go out with friends.
According to Moggio and other American relatives, the couple's son, Islam, grew into a little hellion, calling his mother by her first name and ignoring Tissie's attempts at discipline. "He'd cuss you out," says Moggio. In their household, the pecking order was Yaser, Islam, Tissie and then the girls.
Tissie gradually stopped seeing her family, Moggio says.
"I went over to see the kids," Moggio says. "I was leaving, and he blocked me in. [Yaser] told me, 'I can hurt you right now, and nobody would ever know it,' and don't ever go to his house and get his family."
The girls, dark-haired angels with downcast eyes, ate tacos and dangled their legs in late fall 1998 while sitting at Gartrell's breakfast table. Tissie had left the girls with Gartrell while she and Moggio went to the Hill County Sheriff's Department to file a report that Yaser had sexually abused both daughters.
"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.
After 9/11, Ahmed begged his two oldest daughters not to wear head scarves to school, fearing anti-Arabic taunts or worse. "But they wanted to," he says. "They said this is America. We are supposed to be free to choose our own religion and practice it."
Even so, after the attacks Ahmed felt that people who had known him for years "looked at things differently." He went up and down his street to "reacquaint" himself with his neighbors.
An animated man with a thick mustache, Ahmed has answered his front door on the way to the gym. His Oklahoma-born wife arrives and asks for the keys to their new SUV for a daughter's soccer practice. He hands them over and keeps talking, bouncing a bit on the balls of his feet.
The brothers moved to America to start a new life after being left with nothing by their father, Ahmed says. He worked as a math tutor at a small East Texas college, where he met his wife.
"Her family was against me at first," Ahmed says, but he won their acceptance.
"The American dream is coming here, getting an education and raising your family up," Ahmed says. At age 40, he walked across a stage to accept his degree in engineering. He and his wife both have professional-level jobs.
But Yaser struggled. "There were times he made less than $20,000 [per year]," Ahmed says.
The Said family was against Yaser's marriage to Tissie from the beginning, Ahmed says. He describes the Owens family as "lower class, uneducated, racist," always trying to sneak the children into Christian church.
Yaser was "the artist" of the Said family, a quiet man who could write eloquently in Arabic and studied sculpture at a junior college.
"He's straightforward, simple," Ahmed says.
Yaser rarely attended the mosque. The most important thing in his life was his family.
"He worshipped the girls," Ahmed says. He calls his nieces Amina and Sarah the family's "stars"—smart, athletic and beautiful.
The family had lined up on different sides: Yaser and Islam versus Amina and Sarah, with Tissie in the middle. The girls told their friends that their brother was weird, a loser who parroted his father's negative attitudes about America and women.
Ahmed says Yaser cooked the family's meals and insisted that the family eat together. Late at night, after taxi calls waned, Yaser would wake the girls and give them "juices and vitamin water" to keep them healthy. He bought the girls a computer and cell phones, sent them to private Islamic school and let them use his bank card at the mall.
"The kids are free to do what they want as long as they stay on track," Ahmed says. "He didn't want the girls turning out like the Owens family, dropping out, getting pregnant and doing drugs."
But were they really free to do what they wanted? Consider Amina's hysterical phone call to her mother from Egypt in 2005, where the children traveled with their father. "He wants me to marry an Egyptian man in his 40s," a tearful Amina said. "I don't know him. I never want to come to Egypt again."
When the call came, Tissie, who rarely saw her extended family, was attending a family funeral. She told family members what 16-year-old Amina said and giggled. She confided to Moggio that when the girls married, they would receive "a lot of money." The groom's family had to give the mahr. Then the groom must give his bride a significant piece of jewelry, the shabka. The jewelry, the bride's personal wealth, must be gold. (Ahmed says that on this trip, a handsome young man had asked for Amina's hand in marriage, but Yaser rejected the request because Amina was too young. As with his own daughters, Ahmed says, Amina would never be required to marry a man she did not approve.)
But first, Islam had to marry.
At the same time Yaser had to ramp up the spending, he was finding it harder to lease cabs. Jack Beasley, manager at Yellow/Jet Cab, says that Yaser had been fired in August 2003. The company banned Yaser from future leasing because customers complained that he was "crazy," Beasley says. "Other cab companies would not hire him because nobody wanted to work with him anymore."
King Cab owner Massoud Nasseri was an exception, and he continued to provide Yaser work. Nasseri, who came to the United States in the 1970s from Iran, says Yaser worked long hours, but would not leave the house unless Islam was there to make sure the girls stayed home at night. He worked the graveyard shift six or seven days a week. Never drew complaints. Never got scared.
"He wasn't a sissy man," Nasseri says. "He worked night clubs, and he knew the danger of driving at night. He would work places others wouldn't work."
And, according to Tissie, he always carried a gun.
Honor killings of women persist in the Arab world and parts of India, despite efforts by activists to raise the penalties, which are often nominal, Al-Huwaidar says. Shame can taint a family and its financial prospects for generations.
"The most important [issue]," says Al-Huwaidar, "a woman shouldn't have any kind of affair before marriage or to decide to have her own choice, to go and look for a man, even if she never be with them, where a woman tells her family she loves someone, maybe talking to someone on the phone. If she runs away with the man, they will kill her for sure. They might forgive her if she just talks on the phone, but they will leave a mark on her body, burn or scar her."
Places with high rates of honor killing include Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and eastern Turkey. "It's not only in the Middle East," Al-Huwaidar says. "It's wherever they don't have laws to protect women."
In southern Egypt, "with people living near the Nile, they still practice older traditions, including honor killings," Al-Huwaidar says. "On the wedding night, they still have this tradition to show the blood. The husband has to bring the sheet to show the blood that she's still a virgin."
The Arabic tradition of money and gifts for the new wife emphasizes the idea of women as property, Al-Huwaidar says. "She cannot take any decision unless she takes permission from the husband. She cannot work or study or leave the house."
Al-Huwaidar attended university in the United States. Now divorced, she returned to Saudi Arabia with her two sons to write about women's issues. (Her work has been translated by MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.) After her detention by Saudi police for advocating the right of women to drive five years ago, she has been banned from publishing in that country or appearing on TV.
"When you see a woman who becomes a teacher or journalist, it's because the husbands or male guardians give her the chance to be," Al-Huwaidar says. "If the husband or brother decides he doesn't want her too, she cannot do it. It all depends on how open-minded the male guardian is."
Most Middle Easterners adapt to the customs in their adopted countries, keeping some traditions but rejecting extremes that are against the law, such as polygamy. But there have been cases of European Arabs bringing wayward daughters back to the old country to be murdered, Al-Huwaidar says.
An estimated 5,000-10,000 Egyptians live in the Dallas area. "They tend to migrate more than other Arabs," says Anne-Marie Weiss, executive director of the DFW International Community Alliance. She has lived in Syria and Saudi Arabia; her daughter lives in Cairo.
But Yaser had veered from Muslim and Egyptian cultural practices early on, first by marrying Tissie after his brother dumped her.
"That is not acceptable," Weiss says. "She's damaged goods. And no God-fearing Muslim would readily accept a wedding in a Christian church. He is setting aside all his religion and cultural upbringing. If he'll do that, he'll do anything."
Allowing Islam to call his mother by her first name, allowing his wife and unmarried daughters to work, those are "shameful acts," Weiss says. "In the Koran, the male must support his family. Something was seriously wrong in this family."
Amina and Sarah grew up as American Muslims, but Yaser was trying to raise them as Egyptians.
"The girls got up in the morning and probably didn't know what the rules would be," Weiss says. "They were living in a system that is chaotic. They don't know where they stand with [their father]."
Though not wealthy, Yaser had "pure gold" in his children's American citizenship, Weiss says.
"The wedding is the biggest day of the girl's life," Weiss says, and her father's chance to shine. "This is his life's work. He's shown he's made it in America. He's going to be a big man for a week or two."
But with three children to marry in as many years, Yaser and Tissie were under enormous economic pressure. An Egyptian marriage is a process that takes time and requires the exchange of valuables.
In Egypt, Weiss says, "they think Americans live like in the movies. It's common for Arabic fathers to ask [American] immigrants to give them a car. If he doesn't get the money, he's a laughingstock and so is the family, in the worst way. It's very important that you have done your duty to your children."
A week before Christmas 2007, Yaser Said dropped his taxi off at the King Cab body shop in Deep Ellum, leaving without paying back fees of $700 or $800. Nasseri didn't worry. Yaser, who had leased taxis from him for about seven years, usually traveled to Egypt over the slow holiday period. He made up the deficit when he returned.
Every Saturday for years, Yaser came down to King Cab to pay his fees, often bringing his children. Office manager Donna Sellers says he became one of her favorite cabbies. She says Yaser was "respectful, kind and thoughtful," even chastising other foreign drivers who were disrespectful to her or didn't accept her authority. "He would explain that this was the way it works here, and they needed to deal with it or go somewhere else."
Problems started when Yaser started bringing Tissie in on Saturdays as well. "She didn't like me talking to Yaser so much," Sellers says.
After witnessing an argument between Sellers and her now ex-husband on the lot, Yaser got out of his cab to talk. "He said he didn't feel so alone," Sellers says, "that he realized other people had problems in their marriage too. He was frustrated because he felt Patricia was very immature, not a good wife or a good mother."
Sellers told him: "You married her at age 15. That means you have to raise her."
"Yes, but when does she finally grow up?" Yaser asked.
Sexually molested by a relative as a child, Tissie—who agreed to a brief phone interview—says she has trouble "dealing with issues," usually running away from problems.
"There was a constant battle over how to rear the children," Sellers says. "He didn't want his daughters dating because dating American boys leads to sex." At times, Tissie would secretly help the girls avoid their father's rigid rules.
When Yaser asked Sellers' advice about switching the girls from private to public school, she advised against it. As they entered high school, Amina and Sarah had blossomed into vivacious beauties. At a large public school, boys would swarm them like bees to flowers.
Using trickery, Yaser had already discovered Amina had a boyfriend, before Eddie. Yaser gave her a car to drive to her many lessons—karate, cheerleading, anything to get out of the house. Suspicious because Amina seemed happy, Yaser replaced the driver's airbag with an audio recorder and caught her talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone. Yaser hit and kicked Amina in the face, shredding her lips on her braces.
Yaser decided to move the family from an apartment in Bedford to a small house in Lewisville.
Tissie and Yaser found a home in a Hispanic neighborhood not far from a freeway. The girls would go to Lewisville High School, but Yaser would supervise them like a prison guard.
As a high school senior, Amina, with her straight black hair, green eyes and creamy café au lait skin, could have posed on the cover of Seventeen magazine. Fresh, sporty, the all-American girl.
"She wanted trendy clothes, hip stuff," says school friend Justin Finn. "Her father wanted the Muslim way of life. She was Muslim because her family was, but she wasn't sure about it. She wanted to go her own way."
Like most teens, Amina and Sarah chatted on cell phones, listened to music and loved to take pictures of each other clowning around. Unlike their peers, Amina and Sarah never hung out with their friends after school or on weekends. No one visited them at home. At times, friends saw the girls with bruises and welts they said were caused by their father. They told friends their father would kill them if they dated American boys.
"Amina mentioned they had gone to Egypt in the past," Finn says, "and if he asked her to go back to Egypt, she wouldn't go."
As soon as Amina became a teenager, Yaser tried to match his daughter up with different Egyptian men, including a cousin. Under Islam, a woman must agree to the marriage. Amina always refused. She told Eddie that Yaser's father, who had come to the United States, was pushing it. "He asked, 'Why aren't they praying?'" Eddie says. "'Why do they dress so slutty?'"
Yaser kept both girls under constant scrutiny. Either he or brother Islam escorted them to the bus stop in the morning, picked them up after school, accompanied them to work and watched them clock in, then ushered them home. Yaser would leave to drive his taxi only after his daughters were in for the night.
In the summer of 2007, both sisters got jobs at a Kroger a few blocks from their home, where Tissie had been working for about five months. "They were a joy to work with," says their former boss. "They were my best employees."
Amina met Eddie, an 18-year-old Hispanic who mowed lawns and was attending junior college. They started seeing each other from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. when she had tennis class, the only time they could get together. Amina warned Eddie: "My father is really psycho." He continually asked his daughter if she was still a virgin.
Amina told him, "Of course."
But, passionately in love, Amina and Eddie had started having sex. Their intimacy brought Amina anxiety. In November, she sent him a text-message saying that they had to talk immediately.
"You're probably going to think I'm dirty and won't look at me the same way," Amina said. "My dad had sex with me and my sister Sarah." Crying and ashamed, Amina told Eddie it had ended about 10 years earlier.
"She talked about him with so much hatred," Eddie says. "She wanted him to die."
Eddie assured Amina he loved her: "We're in this together."
Sarah met a co-worker, Eric, a clean-cut Hispanic student in ROTC at Lewisville High School. They talked at school and at work; Sarah kept Eric's number in her cell phone under a girl's name. Finn says Amina had two cell phones: one her parents paid for and one Eddie paid for.
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.
"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.
"The only time Tissie seemed upset was when she talked about leaving Islam behind," Owens says.
At the end of the afternoon, the five visitors left and drove to Tulsa.
They found an apartment and bought some furnishings. During the trip, Tissie learned that both her daughters were sleeping with their boyfriends. Her only reaction: She had to get them to Planned Parenthood for contraception. "Patricia was kind of like a child," Eddie says. "She didn't know what she wanted. I thought she had something against the girls."
The attempt to start new lives was aborted when Tissie told the girls that December 31 was their grandmother's birthday and they had to drive to East Texas to put flowers on her grave.
Did the girls know that Tissie and her mother had been estranged for years before her death? Tissie's mother had been furious after her daughter returned to Yaser despite the abuse allegations. The "flowers on the grave" story was a ploy.
Yaser had promised Moggio that if Tissie and the girls came home, he would move out of the house. As they neared Lewisville, Tissie announced she was returning to Yaser. Their escape attempt was over. Sarah went home with her mother, but Amina insisted on staying with Eddie. She called Moggio.
"She said, 'My mom just flat lied to us,'" Moggio says. "'She went back to my dad. I'd rather be dead than go back there.'" Moggio told her to get a restraining order against her father "immediately."
Tissie told Yaser that Amina had gone to a New Year's Eve party and was spending the night with a friend.
The next day, however, Tissie told Yaser that Amina had spent the night at Eddie's home.
Tissie called Amina for hours then appeared at Eddie's front door. All was forgiven, her daddy had said, "the page flipped." Her father had changed, Tissie insisted.
Amina didn't believe it. Eddie reminded Tissie about the fear of the previous week.
"He's hurt her for 20 years," Eddie said. "He wouldn't change after five days."
"I thought about it," Tissie said. "Y'all and Islam are going to get married, and I don't want to be all alone. Nothing is going to happen [to Amina] with me there. I really want them to finish high school, then you can run away." She promised to protect her daughters.
"I don't want to go back," Amina insisted. In tears, she turned to Eddie. "Let's go back to Tulsa."
"Patricia will know where we are," Eddie said. "I was like, 'It won't hurt to talk to him.'" He breaks into sobs at the memory.
"I always thought that a mother would take care of her girls."
"You're letting me down," Amina told Eddie. She took the memory card out of her camera and threw it at him. "It's over. He won't let me see you again." She refused to kiss him goodbye and walked out the door.
The last time Eddie saw Amina was in her father's taxi. Eddie and his father were driving to meet a relative when Yaser's taxi crossed their path. Eddie followed the cab and saw Amina sitting in the front seat facing Yaser, her knee up and her back against the door.
"She looked nervous," Eddie says. "Sarah didn't look worried." After Amina sent him a text message saying the situation was OK, he and his father drove on to their destination.
Amina had only been home only minutes when her father had hustled both girls into his taxi. Yaser had confronted Sarah and asked if she was having sex with her boyfriend. She said yes.
"I think he was top-of-the-line angry," Eddie says. "He was like, 'How did that happen?'"
"Help, help, my dad shot me..."
The call to 911 was routed to the Irving Police Department at 7:35 p.m. The cell phone caught a girl's gasping voice.
"I'm dying, I'm dying Abu...."
The sound of a car door opening.
"Oh my God, not again!"
A struggle. "Stop it. Stop it. Stop..." The door slamming. Then only whimpering.
The police dispatcher traced the number to Islam, who had loaned Sarah his phone. Lewisville police arrived at the Lakeland house and picked up Tissie and Islam, who said Yaser had taken the girls in his taxi "for tea."
By the time mother and son arrived at the Irving Police Department, the mystery of the 911 call had been solved.
A cab driver had pulled into the taxi queue at the Omni Mandalay Hotel in Las Colinas at about 8:30 p.m. When the cab in front of him didn't move, the driver looked inside. No driver, just two blood-soaked young women sprawled across the seats, Amina in front and Sarah in back.
Tracing the cell tower that picked up Sarah's phone call, police surmise Yaser had driven to a park on Riverside Drive where fishermen casting for bass often heard gunshots from the Elm Fork shooting range.
Yaser stopped the car, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and shot Amina twice, hitting his oldest daughter point blank in the chest, severing her spinal cord.
Then he turned the gun on Sarah, in the back seat. The girl fought as her father pumped nine bullets into her body. If he fired the shots at the park, Yaser drove fewer than three miles, parked in front of the Omni and left his dead daughters for others to find.
Then, wearing a jacket and black turtleneck and carrying his Egyptian passport, he vanished into the cold night air.
The news of his nieces' deaths hit the Said family hard, Ahmed says. "If we had known, we could have intervened." Yaser's mother wondered out loud why Yaser hadn't committed suicide instead.
Ahmed scoffs at the idea the girls were killed to preserve the "Said family honor."
"That is a tribal, backward thing," he says, not a part of his culture or religion. "They were stars. Special. They were going to be doctors."
The deaths of Amina and Sarah triggered escalation in the hostility between the two sides of the family. At a Christian funeral before the Muslim ceremony, Islam demanded that the two boyfriends be prohibited from attending the service.
Though a source with the American Embassy in Cairo says Yaser has not entered Egypt on his own passport, he's likely there, perhaps living in Amina's house.
"He is free [in Egypt]," Weiss says. "There is only one way to cleanse the shame—the woman's blood. They may whisper about his crime, but he's done his duty."
In May, the "aunts," Gartrell, Boucher and Owens, ramped up an effort to keep the search for Yaser in the public eye, raising the reward for his capture to $21,125. Since the funerals, Tissie has said little about the murders except that "Yaser is a good man."
A war between the two sides erupted on a blog called "scarlet crusader," escalating in threats, racial epithets and obscenities.
Two days after the murders, Boucher drove her niece and Islam to the house on Lakeland Drive. After movement was seen inside, a zealous Lewisville SWAT team had broken most of the windows with tear gas canisters and ruined the house.
Tissie found a box of legal papers in English and Arabic. "This is all yours now," Tissie told Islam. Amina's "chalet," her computer, everything that belonged to the girls went to the oldest son, including the deed to the house on Lakeland Drive.
The house has been completely remodeled and the mortgage paid through July 1. The money came from donations by the Islamic Center, Kroger and people at the Lewisville High School.
The house sits empty, awaiting Islam and a bride from Egypt.
Additional research for this story was provided by Carrie Huskinson.