Remembering Victims of Hate Crimes

Abdullah Nimer, 53
Los Angeles, Calif.
Abdullah Nimer was used to having doors slammed in his face. After all, the 53-year-old Palestinian immigrant sold clothes door-to-door.

But after Sept. 11, a tough job got tougher. Traversing his sales territory in South Central Los Angeles, Nimer's family said, he began to hear threats and anti-Arab slurs.

Nimer, who lived in Bell, Calif., tried to handle the trash-talking the same way he dealt with the slamming doors: Ignore it and keep moving.

But on the afternoon of Oct. 3, he was stopped in his tracks by a group of young men who confronted and shot him. Nimer died the next day.

The FBI is investigating Nimer's murder as a hate crime. The Los Angeles Police Department is not. The motive for his murder was robbery, they said, though detectives found that nothing was stolen from Nimer. At press time, no arrests had been made.

Nimer's murder appeared to be part of a huge wave of xenophobic hate crimes in the Los Angeles area that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In just the first four weeks of the backlash, the Los Angeles police and sheriff's departments reported 167 hate crimes against people perceived to be Muslims — and that number did not include the crime against Nimer.

Nimer left behind a wife and six children. They believe the killing was hate-inspired — though they'd prefer to think otherwise.

"To be honest, I hope it is not," Nimer's son, Islam, told a local paper. "Because if it is, none of us is safe. Already, my mother wants to move from our house. Whenever I see a car behind me, I wonder who is following me."

Lorenzo "Loni Kai" Okaruru, 28
Aloha, Ore.
Loni Okaruru wanted to get home. A biological male born 28 years before in the South Pacific island of Saipan, Okaruru had started living as a woman years before she migrated to Aloha, a small town near Portland, Ore.

Around 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 26, she was walking down a rural highway after visiting a 7-Eleven store where she often hung out. She flagged down a passing police officer to ask for a ride home — but the officer thought Okaruru, who spoke with a heavy accent, wanted to go to Cornelius, Ore., rather than Cornelius Pass Road.

He offered to call a cab or friends to pick her up. Okaruru declined, saying a cab cost too much. Besides, she didn't want to bother anyone at such a late hour.

Shortly before 8 a.m., Okaruru's dead body was found in an overgrown field along a nearby stretch of road. She had been savagely beaten, a telltale sign of a likely hate crime, then dumped in the field.

"Fingertips cut off, face smashed in — whoever did it, there certainly was a violent rage," said Greg Miles, Okaruru's uncle.

Police agreed, counting Okaruru's murder as the first official hate crime in Washington County history. At press time, however, they had not arrested any suspects.

Back on Saipan, Miles said, Okaruru's gender identity was no big deal.

"It's commonly accepted in the Pacific Islands that there are people who are born with the wrong body. Within the family, certainly, there was no problem. He was loved by everybody, especially the children." They called Okaruru "Auntie Larry."

Not everyone in Oregon was so understanding. Relatives say that Okaruru had been beaten up at least twice in Portland and Washington County.

Sheriff's Det. Mike O'Connell speculated that Okaruru died in a version of what had recently happened to her on a date with a local man. "He touched her through her clothes, found out she was a man, and kicked her out of his car right there.

"I think that is what happened here, but it didn't end quite so nicely."

Vasudev Patel, 49
Mesquite, Texas
When Vasudev Patel was found dead on the floor of his Shell station and convenience store in a suburb of Dallas, his surveillance camera told part of the story.

It showed an armed man walking into the store on Oct. 4 and ordering Patel to "give me the money now." It showed the owner being shot while trying to reach for a weapon, then falling to the floor.

It showed the robber attempting to open the cash register, then commanding the fallen Patel to open it "or I'll blow your brains out." It showed the robber running out of the store, empty-handed.

The next afternoon, police used the video evidence to arrest 32-year-old Mark Anthony Stroman, a two-time convicted felon.

Stroman admitted to shooting Patel. That much seemed clear. But the rest of the story — Stroman's motive — couldn't be captured by the camera.

Stroman first said his motive was robbery, saying he had tried to shoot Patel in the shoulder but missed. Then he changed his story, telling investigators that he killed Patel out of revenge: His sister, he claimed, had died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Police said they hadn't determined the truth of that claim, but Stroman was charged with capital murder.

Stroman's robbery motive was further called into question when police charged him with another shooting that happened two weeks before Patel was killed.

Just after noon on Sept. 21, Stroman allegedly strode into a Texaco station in Dallas flashing a double-barrel, .45-caliber Derringer. The clerk, a native of Bangladesh, opened the cash register as soon as he saw the gunman.

Stroman fired anyway, hitting the side of the attendant's face and blinding him in one eye. Despite the open cash drawer, police said Stroman left without taking anything.

Despite Stroman's conflicting confessions, one thing was clear. If he came to Patel's store looking for revenge on Arabs or Muslims, he chose the wrong target: Patel was a native of India.