American Girls

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.

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Glenna Whitley